How many servings should I be eating?
To find out how many servings of fruits and veggies you should eat each day, go to this website. You can enter your age, gender, and amount of physical activity to get a more accurate suggestion, but the general rule of thumb is 7-8 servings a day. Almst any form will do - fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice. Whole fruits, however, usually contain more fiber than juice (I usually don't count juice unless it's V8 or V8 fusion), and raw fresh produce is going to be the best for you. Sometimes that can be tough to do, especially if you're not used to consuming that much fresh produce. If you haven't been getting enough, try to ease yourself into it (if you try to do it all at once, you might have some digestional problems like gas - not good!). Try adding in 1 more serving of veggies and 1 piece of fruit for a few days, then add in some more. Do this until you reach the recommended amount. Why should you eat more fruits and veggies? People who eat more generous amounts of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including strokes, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.*
What if I don't like vegetables or fruit?
Who wants to eat 6 cups of broccoli and 4 apples every day? Not me. You don't have to limit yourself to one type of produce. What if you don't like steamed broccoli? Try grilling it with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Don't like spinach? Mix some fresh stuff up in a smoothie with lots of berries (I kid you not, you will NOT be able to taste it! And yes, it will turn the smoothie green.). Can't stand apples without smothering them in fattening peanut butter or caramel dip? Try coreing it, sprinkling it with cinnamon, and bake it for 30 minutes at 350 in the oven - then fill the middle with nonfat vanilla yogurt and sprinkle with granola. My point is, if you don't like something, try cooking it a different way. By doing this, I've learned to love lots of veggies that I didn't like much before (eggplant is now one of my favorites!). There are so many different options out there, you shouldn't limit yourself to just one or two types of produce. Mix it up! Also, since you have so many options, try a bunch of different kinds of produce until you do find something you like. You don't have to force yourself to eat cauliflower or mushrooms if you can't stomach them. Just find something that you will eat instead! (More options listed below.)
Why do I need different colors on my plate?
Okay, now onto the importance of colors. Did you know that each color has different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and a whole host of beneficial nutrients? It's true!
Red fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called "lycopene" or "anthocyanins." Lycopene in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit, for example, may help reduce risk of several types of cancer, especially prostate cancer. Lycopene in foods containing cooked tomatoes, such as spaghetti sauce, and a small amount of fat are absorbed better than lycopene from raw tomatoes. Anthocyanins in strawberries, raspberries, red grapes and other fruits and vegetables act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Antioxidants are also linked with keeping our hearts healthy.*
Examples of the red group: Red apples, Beets, Red cabbage, Cherries, Cranberries, Pink or Ruby Red grapefruit, Red grapes, Red peppers, Pomegranates, Red potatoes, Radishes, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Strawberries, Tomatoes, and Watermelon
Orange/yellow fruits and vegetables are usually colored by natural plant pigments called "carotenoids." Beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, pumpkins and carrots is converted to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. Scientists have also reported that carotenoid-rich foods can help reduce risk of cancer, heart disease, can improve immune system function, and lower the risk in developing age-related macular degeneration (an eye disorder common among the elderly which can lead to blindness). Carotenoids also may be good for your heart. One study found that men with high cholesterol who ate plenty of vegetables high in carotenoids had a 36 percent lower chance of heart attack and death than their counterparts who shunned vegetables.*
Citrus fruits like oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C and folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce risk of birth defects.*
Examples of the orange/yellow group: Yellow apples, Apricots, Butternut squash, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Grapefruit, Lemons, Mangoes, Nectarines, Oranges, Papayas, Peaches, Pears, Yellow peppers, Persimmons, Pineapple, Pumpkin, Rutabagas, Yellow summer or winter squash, Sweet corn, Sweet potatoes, Tangerines, Yellow tomatoes, and Yellow watermelon
Green fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigment called "chlorophyll." Some members of the green group, including spinach and other dark leafy greens, green peppers, peas, cucumber and celery, contain "lutein". Lutein works with another chemical, "zeaxanthin", found in corn, red peppers, oranges, grapes and egg yolks to help keep eyes healthy. Together, these chemicals may help reduce risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness if untreated. The "indoles" in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables may help protect against some types of cancer. Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are excellent sources of folate, a B vitamin that helps reduce risk of birth defects.*
Examples of the green group:
Green apples, Artichokes, Asparagus, Avocados, Green beans, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Green cabbage, Cucumbers, Green grapes, Honeydew melon, Kiwifruit, Lettuce, Limes, Green onions, Peas, Green pepper, Spinach, and Zucchini
Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are colored by natural plant pigments called "anthocyanins." Anthocyanins in blueberries, grapes and raisins act as powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage. They may help reduce risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Other studies have shown that eating more blueberries is linked with improved memory function and healthy aging.*
Examples of the blue/purple group: Blackberries, Blueberries, Eggplant, Figs, Juneberries, Plums, Prunes, Purple grapes, and Raisins
White fruits and vegetables are colored by pigments called "anthoxanthins." They may contain health-promoting chemicals such as "allicin", which may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and may help reduce risk of stomach cancer and heart disease. Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are good sources of the mineral potassium, too.*
Examples of the white group include: Bananas, Cauliflower, Garlic, Ginger, Jicama, Mushrooms, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes, Turnips
How are you doing so far?
If you're like many Americans, your plate may benefit from some added color from fruits and vegetables. Try adding this to your food journaling and highlighting each fruit or vegetable in with the color it is. Write down all the fruits and vegetables you ate yesterday, or keep track of what you eat today. Did you have any fruit for breakfast? Lunch? Snacks? Dinner? What color groupings did you try? Try to aim for a little from each color group every day. Check the strategies you will try:
- Keep cleaned fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator -- ready to eat.
- Have vegetables with low-fat dip for a snack.
- Try commercial prepackaged salads and stir-fry mixes to save prep time.
- Add vegetables to casseroles, stews and soups.
- Drink 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks or soda pop.
- Have fruit for dessert.
- Keep a bowl of apples, bananas and/or oranges on the table.
- Choose a side salad made with a variety of leafy greens.
- Bake with applesauce instead of oil to reduce fat and increase fiber.
- Add lettuce, onions, peppers and/or tomatoes to sandwiches.
- Order veggie toppings on your pizza.
- Enjoy fruit smoothies for breakfast or snacks.
- Pack fresh or dried fruits for quick snacks.
Thanks for sticking with me till the end! If you read all that, you deserve a cup of raspberries drizzled with warm chocolate sauce. Yum.....