We’ve all heard it a million times, from our mother and bubby to our doctor and government experts: Eat fruits and vegetables. Well, count this nutritionist as one more source for this time-tested good advice.
It’s easier than ever. While the seniors among us remember the limited selection of fresh fruits and veggies in their childhoods, today we are fortunate to enjoy a steady and ample supply of fresh as well as frozen and canned varieties from around the country and the globe. At this time of year, especially, warmer weather and longer, sunnier days make for ideal growing conditions and plentiful supplies. Is it any wonder that June is National Fruit and Vegetable Month?
Read on for some interesting facts about fruits and veggies and some practical tips on how to ensure you get enough of these health-boosting foods in your daily diet. First, let’s test your basic knowledge:
- How many servings of fruits and vegetables should you eat each day, according to the National Cancer Institute and most health authorities? (a: 1-2, b: 3-4; c: 5 or more)
- Sara is making a salad. On her plate she puts 2 cups of dark green lettuce, 1/2 cup of diced cucumber, and 1/2 cup of diced tomato. How many servings of vegetables will she eat? (a: 2; b: 3; c: 4)
- Yaakov eats a bowl of oatmeal with a sliced banana. He then enjoys 3/4 cup of orange juice. How many servings of fruit did he have for breakfast? (a: 1; b: 2; c: 3)
(See the answers at the end.)
Now, try answering these questions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) health survey: 1) Not counting juice, how often do you eat fruit? 2) How often do you eat a green salad? 3) How often do you eat carrots?
There is no one correct answer to any of these questions; the idea, rather, is to get you thinking about how much of these healthy foods you consume.
If you realize you should increase your produce intake but need some extra motivation, just consider the hundreds of studies that have unequivocally shown the health benefits of produce. Here are just two examples concerning heart disease and diabetes, two of the most common chronic ailments for Americans:
Among many other beneficial components, fruits and vegetables contain potassium and fiber, which have been correlated with a decrease in high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease. They also contain vitamin C, which strengthens blood vessels. One large study published in 2004 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by Harvard researchers included almost 110,000 men and women whose dietary habits were followed for 14 years. The study found a clear link between increased fruit and vegetable consumption and lower odds of cardiovascular disease.
An international study published in 2013 in the British Medical Journal that analyzed data on more than 66,000 men and women found that higher consumption of whole fruits – especially blueberries, grapes, and apples—was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers believe that the specific phytochemical compounds in these fruits are what account for their favorable effect on blood sugar regulation. Importantly, the study also showed that higher levels of fruit juice consumption had the opposite effect, increasing the risk for diabetes. The researchers called for health organizations to recommend increasing intake of whole fruits, especially the ones named above, as a way to help prevent diabetes.
Okay, so now you’re convinced you need to eat more fruits and veggies. How to do so? The following ideas are adapted or reprinted, with permission, from foodandhealth.com.
- Have one cup of fruit with your breakfast.
- Have one cup (or one whole) fruit for your mid-morning snack.
- Eat at least one cup of vegetables at lunch. This can be a salad or vegetable soup.
- Eat at least one cup of vegetables for dinner.
- Make one vegetarian recipe each week; don’t be afraid to try new ones!
- Eat a salad at least once a day, every day.
- Keep frozen veggies on hand to create quick side dishes and to throw into pasta or soup.
- Start your shopping in the produce section of the grocery store and build your meal ideas from what you find there.
- At least a third of your grocery cart should be filled in the produce section.
- Keep fresh and dried fruit on hand for grab-and-go snacks.
- At restaurants, order a salad instead of fries.
- Make a fruit dessert a couple times per week.
To use fruits and veggies in more creative ways, try some of the following ideas: Freeze grapes and sliced bananas; they make great keep-cool snacking treats for everyone; Instead of the same old boring iceberg lettuce, try crispy fresh spinach, arugula, or mixed greens of salads and sandwiches; Put some fresh veggies on the grill whenever you barbecue; Toss some fruit into your salad. You can use dried fruits like cranberries or fresh ones like berries, mangoes, peaches, and pineapple.
What about family members, kids or adults, who dislike fruits and veggies? Nutrition researchers Dr. Barbara Rolls at the University of Pennsylvania came up with a neat way to “camouflage” produce in meals—by making veggie purees and adding them to a variety of dishes.
The first step is matching up the colors. Second, cook the veggies until they are a bit softer than for a side dish, and then puree them in a blender or food processor. Finally, add the puree so it accounts for about a quarter to a third of the dish. For example:
- Add pureed orange veggies, like carrots and winter squash, to cheesy dishes like macaroni and cheese or casseroles.
- Add pureed red veggies, like tomatoes and beets, to chili, pasta, meatloaf, stews, and casseroles.
- Add pureed yellow/white veggies, like cauliflower to mashed potatoes, and cream soups.
- Add pureed green veggies, like broccoli and zucchini to pasta sauce or rice dishes.
Now, on to a couple of quick and tasty recipes in which fruits and veggies are the star ingredients.
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Rainbow Vegetable Salad
Here’s a healthy salad recipe that you can pull together in record time. This makes a great lunch or a light summer dinner meal. This recipe will yield about four servings, so double or triple as needed.
Start with 4 to 6 cups of salad greens or one bag of kosher-certified salad greens
Add 2 cans drained or two 5-oz. packets of tuna or salmon, or one of each, or use 4 to 6 hard cooked eggs or leftover cooked chicken or turkey.
Now, the fun part: Toss in two or more of the following:
2 cups of carrots – fresh or frozen, cooked or canned
1 cup jarred roasted peppers: rinsed, drained, patted dry, and chopped
2 cups fresh or frozen cooked green beans, or 15-oz. can organic green beans, drained
1/2 cup sliced black olives
15-oz. can of beans, such as chickpeas or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked broccoli or cauliflower
1 cucumber, diced
2 fresh tomatoes
Toss with 6 to 8 T. vinaigrette salad dressing, like Good Seasons spice blend, which is super quick to whip up with your own good-quality oil and vinegar.
Rainbow Fruit Salad
Here’s a recipe that I modified from allrecipes.com.
Start with about 2 cups melon – either watermelon or cantaloupe or a mixture of both. Use a melon baller to hollow out watermelon and cantaloupe into a large bowl.
Add 1 can pineapple chunks, drained or 2 cups frozen pineapple that has come to room temperature for at least half an hour. As an alternative, use frozen mango, but it let it come to room temperature for 1 hour.
Add 1 pint fresh blueberries or 2 cups frozen blueberries
Add 1 cup fresh strawberries or 1 cup sliced frozen strawberries, defrosted for at least one hour.
Finish with 1 cup green seedless grapes and 1 cup red seedless grapes.
Optional: Add 1 to 2 bananas, sliced.
Adding a teaspoon or two of cinnamon will help bring all the flavors together.
This recipe is very flexible. You can leave out some of the fruit if you do not have it in the house, or add what you may already have on hand. Use your imagination and keep it colorful!
The correct answers: 1. c (5 or more servings per day); 2. c (a salad can be a great way to get in several servings of veggies); and 3. b (juice counts, but it’s generally better to consume whole fruit because of the fiber and lower concentration of sugar).
Lauren Mirkin CNS, LDN, LCPC is a licensed nutritionist and professional counselor. Please contact her for information about her comprehensive integrative nutrition counseling services, workshops and classes. She can be reached at 443-326-7023 or firstname.lastname@example.org.