You’ve probably been told since childhood about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 33% of adults meet the daily recommended intake for fruits, and only 27% of American are eating enough vegetables. That means that 7 out of every 10 Americans needs to step up their fruit and vegetable intake.
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, and are full of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Most of the beneficial fiber is contained in the skin or other parts of the fruit or vegetable, so it is better to eat the whole fruit or vegetable than drink it’s juice. The juicing process actually strips the skin and pith, taking fiber with it. (Think apple vs. apple juice, orange vs. orange juice). We’re talking about unprocessed, whole fruits and vegetables.
Here are some tips for upping fruit and vegetable intake.
Don’t supplement, replace
With more than two thirds of Americans being overweight or obese, it is important to note that when working on increasing fruit and vegetable intake, most people need to replace an existing food they are already eating with a fruit or vegetable. Simply adding fruits and vegetables to an existing diet will increase overall calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain. Think in terms of substituting, not adding. For example, try fresh blueberries instead of candy when you are craving something sweet.
Jazz up your salad
Salads can be a great source of fruits and vegetables. One great way to get more nutrition bang for your buck is to replace iceberg lettuce with romaine lettuce, spinach, and/or kale. The darker the green, the more vitamins and minerals it contains. (Iceberg lettuce is mostly water.) Spinach and kale are full of Vitamin A, C, and K, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and folate, to name a few. Add as many other fruits and vegetables to your salad as you like, but try to stay away from high fat/calorie salads that contain bacon, excess cheese, and other toppings like fried wonton strips.
Replace pasta with vegetables
By replacing pasta noodles with squash or zucchini, you can save calories and gain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. With the help of an inexpensive kitchen tool, you can turn zucchini or summer squash into “spaghetti noodles” very easily. Baked spaghetti squash can also be substituted for pasta noodles. All you have to do is bake it in the oven and shred with a fork. It’s that easy! Another tasty substitution is to slice summer squash and zucchini lengthwise and make vegetable lasagna.
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
In 2011, MyPlate replaced the food pyramid in providing national recommendations for daily food intake. One of the recommendations is to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. With half a plate full of fruits and vegetables, there is less room for unhealthy food that is potentially full of refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Plus, most fruits and vegetables are lower in calories, and therefore good for those who are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Replace the cookie jar with a fruit bowl
Make the healthiest foods, like fruit, the most visible and easily accessible in your kitchen. Conversely, remove all unhealthy, “junk food” from the counter tops (and your house altogether, ideally). If you have a difficult time deciding what is healthy and unhealthy, a good rule of thumb is to not have any food on your counter top except fruit. Also, place pre-made green salads or a bowl of grapes at eye level in the refrigerator to keep them visible. You will naturally tend to eat the food that is most convenient and visible.
Have fruit for dessert
Instead of having ice cream, make your own banana ice cream. Freeze a banana, and then blend it with your favorite milk and fresh fruit or peanut butter. This banana based “ice cream” is full of fiber and protein and has no added sugar. You may be surprised at how creamy and tasty it really is. Another great option is berries and a tablespoon of whipped cream. Or sliced, baked apples and cinnamon.