More Than an Apple a Day…

The Canadian Cancer Society encourages you to fill “half your plate” with vegetables at each meal

Vegetables and fruit pack a strong nutritional punch, lowering your risk of cancer and other chronic life- threatening illnesses. April is the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Awareness month, focusing on preventing as well as curing the disease.

“Fruit and vegetables – whether fresh or frozen that are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and are an excellent source of fibre,” said Shauna Arsenault, a Registered Dietitian (RD) with Health PEI West Prince. “Fruits and vegetables help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and some cancers.”

A recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that lowest risk of cancer was found in people eating one and one-third lbs (600g) or more of fruit and vegetables each day. The authors give three explanations of how vegetables and fruit lower cancer risk. “Fruit and vegetables contain a myriad of nutrients and phytochemicals, including fibre, vitamin C, carotenoids, antioxidants, potassium, flavonoids, and other unidentified compounds” which act individually and in combination to “reduce risk of chronic diseases and premature mortality”. Many of these exact pathways are still being discovered. Secondly, the authors point to the fiber found in whole fruits and vegetables, as diets high in fiber also lower cancer risk by improving digestion and encouraging speedier elimination of waste products from the body. Lastly, people who eat the recommended 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables may simply not have room in their diets for unhealthier foods.

In Canada, we are more accustomed to thinking about fruits and vegetables in serving sizes. One serving of most raw fruits or vegetables is about the size of your fist. One serving of cooked vegetables is about ½ cup. One serving of leafy greens is about 2 cups. By consuming the 10 servings of fruits and vegetables recommended by Health Canada each day, Islanders will reach the levels described in the study for maximal health benefits.

The Canadian Cancer Society suggests another way to ensure you are getting all your servings of vegetables is through the “Half Your Plate” method ( It’s simple – fill half of your plate with vegetables at each meal, before you add on other foods like protein/meat or grains.

Just as important as how many fruits and vegetables you eat each day, is getting a wide variety of these foods in your daily diet. “Each variety is packed with unique vitamins and minerals, which is why it is important to choose an array of colours,” said Arsenault.

Juicing is a popular way to get more fruit and vegetables into our diets, yet there are few head-to-head studies comparing the health impact of juices or vitamins extracted from produce and the whole fruit or vegetable. Experts, like Arsenault, continue to recommend whole fruits and vegetables. “By juicing we remove the fibre out of the fruit and vegetables. Fibre promotes satiety. You get less volume when you juice thus you may add more fruits which will increase your calories.”

Choosing fresh, locally-grown vegetables and fruits is also wise. Seasonal local produce is higher in nutrient content as it can be harvested when ripe, unlike produce that has to be shipped thousands of kilometres. Growing one’s own vegetables is also a great option.

Cancer is a complex group of over 200 different diseases, each with their own causes and their own preventions. But there are some common elements, especially in the areas of nutrition. Simple daily choices, such as including a vegetable with each meal, substituting a piece of fruit for dessert or trying new vegetables add up to a healthier lifestyle and, over time, lower your risk of cancer.

Don’t know where to start?

The Canadian Cancer Society has an interactive tool, “It’s My Life” ( where you can learn more about factors, like nutrition, weight and exercise, impacting your personal risk of cancer.