If you think you fruits and vegetables (F&V) are not the foods for you, you may be wrong. After all, there are thousands of F&V in the world. To find the ones that taste good to you and your family, all you need to do is play a little with your food. Set up experiments that allow you to try different varieties prepared in different ways. Even if you already enjoy F&V, a playful approach may help you keep them at the center of your healthy diet.
Kermilya Simmons, Cabarrus Health Alliance nutritionist, suggests starting your experiment by “keeping pre-cut F&V in the refrigerator so they are ready to go when you are.”
She added, “When eating out, try ordering vegetable soup or salad with your meal. At home, use vegetables like celery, onion and garlic to season your foods. When you cook vegetables, add your favorite herbs and spices to enhance their flavor.”
Aubrey Mast, NC State extension associate in nutrition, suggests smoothies as another option for incorporating berries, greens and other nutritious ingredients like nut butters into your diet. “All of these,” she emphasizes, “increase immune function and aid in chronic illness prevention.”
For additional inspiration, consider these recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sponsors of National Nutrition Month held each March:
- Top pizzas or egg dishes with vegetables.
- Try recipes like meatloaf or lasagna that include zucchini, spinach or carrots.
- Keep a bowl of strawberries, apples, grapes or oranges on your kitchen table, handy for anyone in need of a quick snack.
- Use hummus, applesauce, salsa or yogurt with fruit as dips for whole wheat pita wedges or raw fruits and vegetables.
- Grill pineapples or peaches. In fact, create vegetable kabobs and grill those too.
- Puree some of your favorite fruits to make sauces to go with grilled or broiled seafood or poultry. Enjoy the sauces on pancakes, French toast or waffles too.
- Add fruit to your morning cereal.
- Cut a banana lengthwise, top it with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt and sprinkle it with chopped nuts to make a sundae.
Why eat more F&V?
F&V are low in fat and calories and full of vitamins and natural fiber, all of which helps with weight management. F&V also contain plant compounds called phytochemicals that fight chronic diseases. Regularly eating blueberries, for example, is proven to help combat cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s as well as reduce the effects of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Mary Ann Lila, PhD, director of the NC State Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the NC Research Campus, credits anthocyanins, health-promoting compounds inside blueberries and other F&V, for the majority of these effects. In one study, she found that anthocyanins can increase the secretion of insulin generating anti-diabetic effects in the body. If you read about the health benefits of other fruits and vegetables, you’ll find similar reports.
The health benefits come with regular consumption. How much? Dietary Guidelines, 2010, published by the US government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, recommends seven to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The problem is that among Americans age 18 or older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 32.5 percent eat fruit twice or more per day and 26.3 percent eat vegetables three or more times per day.
Adopting a fun, experimental approach to adding more F&V to your diet will help you maximize the health benefits and move closer to the dietary recommendations. Over time, you may find you enjoy F&V more than you thought you ever could.
For more ideas, sign up for a healthy cooking class at Cabarrus Health Alliance. Visit the healthy living section on PHHI website. Check out the website and monthly newsletter published by the Dole Nutrition Institute, another NCRC partner.