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ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: How does fresh produce benefit my health?

In this week's column, Nonie De Long explains why fresh produce can positively transform the health of the majority of people
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Dear readers, today’s question comes from May in Port Hope. She wrote in to tell me she has added fresh produce into her daily diet this year with huge benefits to her skin, energy, and digestion. She notices that it doesn’t seem to matter which ones she eats, as long as they’re fresh. She measures and eats two cups of veggies with her lunch and dinner meals and has two pieces of fruit a day. Sometimes she cooks the veggies and sometimes she doesn’t. But she feels they have changed her health. She wants to know what it is about the produce that has made such a difference. What about it is so transformative?

This is a great question. Before I start to extol the greatness of fresh produce, however, I want to mention that not everyone benefits like this from them. There are a few intestinal and autoimmune conditions that cause fresh produce to worsen the health rather than improving it. If you’ve heard of Mikhaila Peterson, this was the case for her. Her severe RH arthritis did not improve until she used a full carnivore diet. My feeling is that this type of reaction to produce usually happens after a lot of disruption to the digestive system. But for the vast majority of people, fresh produce can help to positively transform health.

What does fresh produce contain?


As you’ve likely heard, many vegetables are high in fibre. The various fibres in veggies help to cleanse the colon walls, stimulate peristalsis (which moves food along), and feed beneficial bacteria we need for good health. The downside of fibre is that when you are not used to eating a lot then start, the results on your digestive system can be dramatic for a while. It’s best to make gradual changes or stay home when making more drastic changes to your diet until you know what to expect. Give yourself three to six weeks of adapting to any new eating routine to truly test the impact on your digestive health.

Probiotics and prebiotics:

You might be surprised to learn that fresh produce is very high in bacteria, both on and in them. Studies are pouring in showing us how essential these are for optimal health. Just how much bacteria does produce contain? “In a study from July in Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers found that the average apple contains about 100 million bacteria. Most are inside, not on the skin. They came from many different taxa — as opposed to the probiotic-supplement pills, which tend to be only one type of bacteria. Of the millions of bacteria in any given apple, very rarely are any the sort that cause diseases; most are innocuous or even beneficial.” Source. I can’t find clear information on what role pesticidal and fungicidal and ripening sprays have on the development of these organisms. If you know the answer to this question, please write in to share it with us.

Soil-based organisms:

Soil-based organisms are bacteria that live in the soil and act as probiotics for plants. They do for plants what probiotics do for us: break down material for nutrients, synthesize vitamins, develop and strengthen the immune system, fight harmful bacteria, and more. They make soil hospitable to plants. Healthy soil is teeming with these organisms, and fresh produce from this fertile soil is also teeming with them. When we consume fresh produce grown in healthy soils, we consume these SBOs also.

The role of SBOs in health is only now being unpacked. Some scientists believe they can play a huge role in disease prevention. “This huge reservoir of extra antibodies is always on hand for the immune system to utilize, as long as the individual is ingesting the SBO's regularly. Without the SBO's, this reservoir of extra antibodies is completely unavailable. Thus, by ingesting the SBO's regularly, the effectiveness of the human immune system is vastly enhanced. This extra contingent of antibodies is always there to attack infection; therefore, the immune system doesn't have to work anywhere near as hard as it normally would to fight off infection." Source And this is only one of the complex roles of SBOs in human health! To understand more, click here.

Living enzymes:

Fresh produce is full of living enzymes. Until we cook it, that is! Enzymes are proteins that are responsible for the chemical reactions and breaking down actions in the body. They are essential for liver health, for the breakdown of food to release nutrients, the formation of muscle tissue, and ridding the body of toxins, just to name a few important roles. Consuming a diet that contains fresh enzymes helps provide external enzymes to the body so internal enzymes can be utilized in other ways. Think of it as resource preservation. You may not have realized it, but lactose intolerance is actually a deficiency of a specific enzyme needed to break down the lactose in dairy products. Dietary enzymes help us get the most from our foods and function at optimal levels. This is why part of each meal should be fresh, uncooked produce.


The macronutrients in veggies are usually carbohydrates and some protein. Carbs are used for energy and proteins are the building blocks of the body. Produce is not usually fatty, with avocado being an exception. Because produce is mostly carbs, they digest quickly, which is why when you eat a meal mostly comprised of produce you feel hungry shortly after. The quick digestion leaves us feeling less bloated and full than we are used to with our heavy, processed food diets today.


There are abundant micronutrients in fresh produce. These include:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals and trace minerals
  • Phytonutrients (special plant nutrients responsible for their colour, flavour, and smell)

These nutrients are immensely important for many functions in our bodies, and some are even essential, meaning we can’t make them but have to get them from our diets. Deficiencies and imbalances in some of these nutrients can predispose us to disease. Fresh produce is a good source of many of these nutrients, and the only source of phytonutrients.

If you don’t recognize the term phytonutrients you will likely have heard of carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene, resveratrol, and others. Broken down, phytonutrients simply means plant specific nutrients. These nutrients are known to be potent in supporting immune function and cellular regeneration. They can help fight cancer in the organs.

“Phytonutrients are actually the basis for more than 40 percent of medications today, including those used to treat pulmonary and heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer. They are also found in herbs and spices, as well as medicinal plants that have played a significant role in ancient history in promoting well-being.” Source These are nutrients you want in your diet. And the solution is simple: eat more fresh produce!

Thank you, May, for writing in. As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them! Just send me an email. If you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website.

Nonie Nutritionista