By Abigale MillerMedically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
Once you start to add fruits and vegetables to your healthy eating plan, you’ll want to keep eating them. Learn what to look for when choosing produce as part of a healthy diet.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. The American Dietary Guidelines suggest that each person eat four and a half cups, or nine servings, of fruits or vegetables each day. Many people find this difficult to manage, but with a little creativity and the right information, it’s as easy as (apple) pie!
Healthy Eating: Why You Need Produce
What can a diet rich in produce do for you? Besides being a delicious part of your meals, fruits and vegetables have amazing health benefits. People who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables generally have a lower incidence of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
Fruits and vegetables offer a spectacular variety of flavor, texture, and nutrition that is just waiting to be taken advantage of. Here are some tips to help you maximize the health benefits of eating produce:
Choose a produce rainbow. Richly colored fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients compared to paler ones. Jessica Begg, RD, of Flourish Wellness & Nutrition in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, suggests dark-colored spinach as a healthy alternative to pale iceberg lettuce. Brightly colored produce like tomatoes, carrots, pink grapefruit, mangoes, and guava are a good source of carotenoids, a form of vitamin A that may help prevent heart disease.
Beware of pre-packaged “health” foods. A recent study discovered that many pre-packaged meals that advertised the inclusion of fruits and vegetables contained a lot of extra salt and didn’t have very much fiber. To avoid this, prepare as much food as you can yourself, so you’ll know exactly what you’re eating. Try using reduced-salt or no-added-salt ingredients in your recipes, and use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor your food.
Remember fresh is best. Fresh produce is the healthiest in terms of vitamin and nutrient content. Out of season, frozen fruits and vegetables are a pretty good second choice. These are usually harvested when they’re ripe and frozen right away, so they don’t lose very much nutrition during the processing. Canned vegetables, although still healthy, should be a last choice because many of the C and B vitamins are destroyed in the cooking process.
Pay attention to preparation. You’ll get the most benefit from your fruits and veggies if you eat them raw. If you cook them, choose steaming rather than boiling, so you don’t lose the vitamins in the cooking water. Begg suggests reusing vegetable cooking water: “If you use the water that remains from steaming or boiling, you can retain some of the vitamins that were lost. For example, try using potato water when making gravy.”
Healthy Eating: Quick Tips for Eating More Produce
Try these menu ideas to increase your fruit and vegetable intake:
- Top your breakfast cereal with sliced bananas or fresh strawberries or blueberries.
- Blend some fresh fruit, yogurt, and honey for a delicious breakfast smoothie.
- Add vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, and peppers to an omelet.
- Have a piece of fresh fruit with your lunch or as a snack.
- Add a green salad to your evening meal. Simple additions like yellow peppers, tomato, or avocado can make it more interesting.
- Use vegetables as a topping for easy meals like pizza or pasta.
- Keep some dried fruit handy as an energy-rich snack.
There are many ways to add fruits and vegetables to your diet. Start by adding a few fruits and vegetables each day and, as this becomes part of your routine, begin to add a few more. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy, produce-rich diet.