Science continues to unveil the health benefits of following a whole foods diet that includes more fruits and vegetables. Indeed, it seems as if we’re always reading or hearing about a new study that links the reduction of certain health risks, such as heart disease and cancer, to the nutrient compounds found in fruit and vegetables.
With so much information readily available to us about why we should be eating more fruits and vegetables, have we, as a nation, taken notice and increased our daily consumption? Sadly, we have not.
In fact, according to a recent report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans fail to meet national health objectives for fruit and vegetable consumption.
In 2000, the U.S. government initiated a 10-year program, Healthy People 2010, to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by Americans. Unfortunately, a decade later, the results of the program indicate the country is not even close to achieving the program’s goal. In fact, not even one of the 50 U.S. states met the objectives of Healthy People 2010 for 75 percent of people to eat at least two servings a fruit a day and 50 percent to eat at least 3 servings of vegetables per day.
So, on a daily basis, how many fruits and vegetables are we actually eating? The results indicate, 32.5 percent of adults, 18 years and older, consumed fruit two or more times per day and 26.3 percent consumed vegetables three or more times per day, far short of the national targets.
As a holistic nutritionist, I’m always encouraging my family, friends and clients to eat more fruits and vegetables. Among several reasons why, these foods contain antioxidants which can help protect against many diseases, and fiber which aids the digestion process. As a busy mom, I also understand how difficult it is some days to remember to include the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetable in our diets.
Between work and family, there seems to be little time left over in the day, for washing, chopping, mincing, dicing, pureeing, or even juicing produce. The availability of fresh produce also requires more trips to the grocery store and sometimes, by the end of the week, our pickings at home are slim.
With this in mind, here are five tips to help increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. These strategies can be easily incorporated into anyone’s lifestyle and the reward is better health and increased energy:
1. Start Right:
Breakfast is the perfect time to include at least one serving of fruit. A ¾ cup of juice equals one serving. Another idea is to add ½ of chopped fruit to your morning cereal or yogurt. If you’re short on time, a banana is a convenient option that you can simply peel and eat, either at the breakfast table, or as you bolt out the door. If you have a little more time, a smoothie is wonderful way to get at least one or even two servings of fruit. Toss in a few vegetables such as celery, carrots or spinach and you’ve now taken care of some of your vegetable daily requirements, too.
2. Make it Visual:
If you see it, you might eat it. Keep a piece of whole fruit, such as an apple, pear, orange or banana on your desk, in your purse, briefcase, or on the kitchen counter at home as a reminder that you need to eat your fruit today.
3. Buy pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables:
Many organic produce such as lettuce, spinach and carrots, are available in prewashed, precut bags. Although more expensive, these are convenient options on those busy days when you need to cut down on your preparation time and get food on the table quickly. It’s too easy sometimes, to choose a less than healthy option when we are short on time, or to pick up take-out on the way home.
4. Freeze it:
Frozen fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh. Keep your freezer stocked with chopped fruit and vegetables that can be easily added to smoothies, cereals, stir fries or soups. Most frozen food aisles at your local grocery store will contain organic fruits and vegetables, but you can also purchase fresh produce and make your own convenient serving size packages to add to your freezer.
5. Plan ahead:
Carve out some time each week to plan and prepare your meals and snacks. Although this might seem time consuming at first, trust me, the reward is a healthier lifestyle. Clean, chop and store in the refrigerator all the vegetables and fruit you will use for your weekday meals and snacks in individual airtight containers. When we take the time to plan our food choices, we not only reduce our chances of eating prepackaged processed foods, we are also more likely to make a concerted effort to meet our daily nutritious requirements.
Thankfully, nature has provided us with a plethora of tastes, colors and textures to please even the most discriminating palate so that selecting which fruits and vegetables to eat should be easy. Now, if we can just incorporate a few simple strategies into our busy lifestyles we can surely meet the nation’s consumption standards and reap the benefits of eating well.