Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Self check: how are you doing on your fruit and veggie intake?

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
  1. Aim for a variety of forms
  2. Eat the rainbow
  3. Make produce the basis of most meals and snacks
  4. Get out of the rut
Aim for a Variety of Forms

  • 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.
Eat the rainbow

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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6 comments:

  1. That's a really great picture! I tried baby eggplant from the farmer's market over the summer and really liked it. The flavor was delicious and the skins were more tender than the adult, dark purple variety. I'm looking forward to springtime and more local produce!

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  2. Beautiful picture! For me, the key was not adding in more vegetables on top of everything else - that would make me overly full all the time. If I eat only vegetables, I find I'm constantly hungry, too, and so I eat more and more to try to feel full. For me, the best balance came through reducing my meat intake, and filling up on whole grain carbs (homemade bread, pizza crust, musli, etc) together with cheeses and some fresh veggies. I feel best on that diet, and I find that when I listen to my body, when I need something, I crave it. Sometimes I really want a fresh orange for dessert. Sometimes I really want a steak burrito. If I eat a lot of meat, though, I find I'm even hungrier the next day, so I find it easiest to stay in balance with a light mix of all the above.

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  3. I made a delicious soup this week and it was the first time that I have cooked with both parsnips and acorn squash. I now want to try roasting an acorn squash and stuffing it with seasoned quinoa and kale.

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    1. Tara - thanks for commenting! Your soup sounds delicious and I hope your squash is too! I wish I had put kale in the picture above - I love it so much.

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  4. I'm getting ready to do a strict Paleo challenge for the next 28 days and your blog couldn't have come at a better time! I am headed to the market today to try to find my rainbow of veggies!

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