While many of us know the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, few of us actually consume the daily recommendation. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 76% of adults do not meet fruit recommendations of 1.5-2 cups per day. Additionally, 87% do not meet vegetable recommendations of 2-3 cups per day. When the CDC examined children’s eating habits, they found 60% did not meet fruit recommendations and 93% of children did not meet vegetable recommendations.
The fruits and vegetables missing from most of our diets are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are also low in calories and fat and are an important part of a well-balanced diet. Studies suggest that increasing produce intake may reduce the risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers and stroke. All this while making weight management easier and promoting overall health, what’s not to love?
So how can you improve your produce consumption and consequently your health? For starters, keep in mind that all types count whether they are fresh, canned, frozen, and/or dried. Use whatever type makes it easiest for you to eat the full daily recommendation. If you prefer canned or frozen varieties, be sure to watch out for sodium and sugar content. Select fruit packaged in 100% fruit juice over light or heavy syrups. Choose low or no sodium added vegetables when possible. If low sodium varieties are not an option for you, be sure to thoroughly rinse your canned veggies, as this process removes about 40% of the sodium content. Try sneaking more fruits and vegetables into your typical meals and snacks with the following easy tips:
- Add veggies to sandwiches, wraps and pizzas
- Have a side salad with dinner
- Keep pre-cut/ready-to-eat produce on hand for easy snacking
- Make sure you include a fruit or vegetable in every meal to increase daily consumption
- Showcase your produce in an attractive eye-catching container on your counter for easy access
- Pack vegetable sticks as a mid-day snack. Think celery, carrots, cauliflower, sugar snap peas and bell peppers. Dip them in hummus or low fat dip to make it more fun!
- Add vegetables to an egg omelet in the morning
- Get sneaky and add pureed vegetables to favorite sauces
- Freeze some favorites to throw into a smoothie for breakfast or snacks
- Experiment with different fruits and vegetables to find your favorites
- Think outside the box regarding preparation. Try braising, grilling and roasting your produce to avoid getting bored of the same thing
If you are already eating the recommendation for fruits and vegetables, try to take your health to the next step by increasing the variety and colors of the produce you typically consume. Each color specializes in specific nutrients. By eating a wider variety of plant based foods, you can better ensure you are getting adequate amounts health promoting nutrients. Challenge yourself to try a new fruit or veggie every week. Who knows, you might find a new favorite that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without!