In the diet-centric world we live in, it’s easy to focus on what we CAN’T have. Watch the fat. Cut the carbs. Count your calories. We’re still fighting over what to do with coconut oil. But today I want to look at something pretty much everyone agrees we CAN and SHOULD have more of. Fruits and vegetables! Why are these luscious gifts of nature so important, and how many fruits and vegetables should you be eating?
The USDA guidelines recommend 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. That’s a total of fruits and vegetables combined. Now, I’m the first person to admit I scrutinize many of the USDA’s policies and guidelines (this is a hot topic for another day) but this is one pretty much everyone is on board with.
Why do we need more?
The question really is, why not? Consider the following benefits:
- Protection against heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women in the us (1)
- Protection against depression (2)
- Cancer prevention (3)
- An inverse association with obesity (4)
How does this work?
When certain metabolic processes in the body occur, free radicals are released. These free radicals, when present in excess, cause damage to other cells and tissue in a process called oxidative stress. This process is implicated in many diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. I’s thought to contribute to the aging process as well.
Antioxidants essentially neutralize these free radicals, preventing them from causing oxidative stress. They are basically disease preventing superheroes with significant power! And guess what fruits and vegetables are loaded with? That’s right, antioxidants. While many, many factors contribute to the increased rates of chronic diseases we see today, it seems apparent our fruit and vegetable intake needs to step up its game.
How are you doing?
If you’re like 85% of Americans, you’re not eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. And being honest, I’m in this categories many days. To reach the MINIMUM, that means at least one serving at each meal and another two added on or as a snack. This is something all of us need to improve. Our health really can’t afford for us not to.
Tips for increasing your fruits and vegetables
- Have at least one serving at every meal. This means you’re getting at least 3, which for many is a first step
- Mix them in your favorite dishes! Making a casserole? Add broccoli. Making mac n’ cheese for the kids? Throw in some peas and carrots. Spaghetti? Roasted cauliflower and mushrooms would be amazing.
- Grill baby! If you’re throwing steaks on, drizzle a little olive oil on some asparagus and toss on a grill pan. Easy peasy.
- Blend. Frozen berries are the essential breakfast smoothie ingredient, along with frozen spinach. I promise the spinach taste is not overwhelming. (1 cup almond milk, 3/4 cup frozen berries, a big handful of spinach, and a big tablespoon of peanut butter is my go-to smoothie)
- Power salads! A few times a week have a big hearty salad for lunch or dinner. Mixed greens, diced peppers, and mixed raw vegetables with your favorite dressing allows you to get 2-3 servings of vegetables in one meal! Throw on some meat or hard-boiled eggs if the thought of “just a salad” doesn’t do it for you.
- Meal prep your snacks. This is huge for me. Wash and cut fruit like strawberries and grapes right when you buy them, making them ready to eat or serve. They should be as accessible as a bag of chips.
- Always have baby carrots, snow peas and hummus or ranch around. This one is my personal tips. If I know I’m short on intake, this is an easy go-to
1. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 May 24;57(8):1650-1663. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2015.1008980.
2. Nutrition. 2016 Mar;32(3):296-302. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2015.09.009. Epub 2015 Sep 30
3. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:394S-8S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.071357. Epub 2014 Jun 11
4. Obes Facts. 2011;4(6):449-55. doi: 10.1159/000335279. Epub 2011 Dec 6.