|Dried cherries, canned tomatoes, frozen green beans and fresh anything all count!|
Here's the hard truth: most of us are doing a crummy job eating enough fruits and vegetables. Despite their wealth of benefits ranging from supporting a healthy weight, improving our mood and helping to prevent cancers, not to mention their excellent taste and beauty, we need to get our tails in gear. What's the hang up?
Too often we aren't preparing our own foods - we eat at restaurants more often than ever, we grab non-perishable "snacks" such as chips and cookies and don't feel like cooking after a long day at the office. And then there is the lack of knowledge - how do you know how to pick an eggplant? Are frozen vegetables unhealthy? How do you chop an onion?
It is time to take a few small steps into the kitchen and try some new produce. Here is the good news: all forms of fruits and vegetables count towards the daily goal - fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice.
The best advice for reaching your produce potential
- Aim for a variety of forms
- Eat the rainbow
- Make produce the basis of most meals and snacks
- Get out of the rut
- Fresh: Try to eat local and in season for best nutrition and flavor.
- Frozen: a great choice too - it is already cut up, is often a mixture of colors and ready to add to soups, pastas, stir-fries and omelets - avoid ones in sauces because they're likely loaded with salt. Frozen fruit is often more affordable than fresh, especially for berries, and make terrific smoothies and baked oatmeal - look for frozen fruit without added sugar. Frozen blueberries and grapes are a refreshing simple snack.
- Canned: I try to minimize my use of canned goods because you do lose some of the nutrients in the process, and too often canned goods are loaded with salt and the lining of the cans can have PBA. Canned tomato products are a good pantry staple when fresh tomatoes are out of season and no-sugar-added apple sauce is delicious too. When buying canned fruit, looks for fruits packed in juice, not syrup, to minimize unnecessary calories.
- Dried: Another great choice and an easy snack that can replace those chips and cookies. Look for dried fruit without added sugar to keep your snack from turning into dessert. Dried tomatoes and mushrooms are nice for winter cooking.
- Juice: small amounts are ok, minimize daily totals as it usually lacks the fiber and satiety of whole fruits and vegetables - but if you're keeping your juice consumption around 4-6 ounces a day, and you're selecting 100% fruit juice, you're ok.
A lot of what gives a fruit and vegetable their color also lends to their nutritional value - nature's paint brushes are called phytochemicals. Beta carotene in carrots and lycopene in tomatoes are just two examples from hundreds. In general, the darker the color, the better. Spinach and kale are more nutrient dense than iceberg lettuce. However, white produce has their own bounty of nutrients - don't skip the pears, onions, garlic and cauliflower.
Ask yourself: did you eat a rainbow yesterday? Red, blue/purple, white, orange, yellow and green? What colors are you missing?
Make produce the basis of most meals and snacks
Instead of planning your meal around the chicken or beef, start with the broccoli. In your cereal bowl, add sliced bananas and dried fruit. Have bell pepper slices and pea pods with your sandwich and skip the chips. When making macaroni and cheese, boil a frozen veggie blend with the noodles and toss the cheese on everything. Stretch soups and stews with double the veggies. It doesn't have to be difficult - have fun with it!
Get out of the rut
Variety isn't just the spice of life, it is also the key to good nutrition. Are you always buying broccoli and apples? Try pears and kale increase. Swap those pretzel sticks for carrot sticks and see what menu staples can stand to hold some more veggie power.
Reader poll: Have you tried any new fruits or vegetables lately? I just tried pomegranate for the first time and love it!
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