Eat more fruits and veggies.

Body

If you’re watching your weight or just want to feel better every day, you’re going to love this month’s challenge: Eat more fruits and vegetables! They’re low in fat and calories, contain zero cholesterol, and can reduce your risk for heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain cancers. They can even help you live a longer life. A recent study found that people who ate 7 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduced their risk of death at any point in time by 42 percent compared to those who ate less than one serving per day. That’s powerful produce! Even smaller amounts are good for you.

Daily servings of             Reduced risk of death
fruits & vegetables         by any cause*

1-3 servings                     14%
3-5                                   29%
5-7                                   36%  
7+                                    42%

*Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables
Source: University College London, March 31, 2014

The USDA recommends that adults get 7-10 servings a day, depending on age, gender, physical activity and overall health. So, how much is 7 servings? Generally, 1 serving equals 1/2 a cup of raw fruits or veggies — making 7 servings only 3 ½ cups of produce a day. Definitely doable! Want an easier way to think about it?  

  • Aim for about 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of veggies for a 2,000-calorie diet.

                                                        — or —

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack.

Load up on fruits and veggies (and love it).

Truth be told, most of us don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. According to a CDC report, the average Hoosier has just 1 serving of fruit and 1 ½ servings of vegetables a day, resulting in a lack of vital nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber needed for a healthy, disease-free life. Try these tips for sneaking more produce into your diet:

  • Fortify your breakfast. Stir fresh berries or banana slices into your oatmeal or yogurt. If you’re having eggs, chop in some peppers, mushrooms, onions or spinach to dish up a delicious scramble.
  • Keep fruit out where you can see it. Wash fresh fruit and display it prominently — on the counter, table or at your desk — so it’s easy to grab when you’re hungry.
  • Double the veggies. When a recipe calls for a certain amount of vegetables, double it. You’re already doing the chopping, so you might as well boost your intake.
  • Try a new vegetable (or fruit) each week. Go to your local farmer’s market or stroll your grocery aisles for something you’ve never tasted. Maybe even let a family member do the choosing. Find out what’s in season or on special, and start checking your favorite cookbooks for prep tips and recipes. Kohlrabi, anyone?
  • Supersize your salad. Choose dark leafy greens instead of iceberg (darker generally means more nutrients) and pile on the colorful, crunchy veggies and/or fruits. (Note: Every 1/2 cup equals another serving, but it takes a full cup of leafy greens to equal 1 serving.)
  • Store to-go portions in the fridge. In lieu of chips, cookies and other unhealthy snacks, place baggies of pre-washed grapes, berries, snap peas, mini peppers or carrots at eye-level in the refrigerator for easy access.
  • Add crunch to sandwiches. Dress up your turkey sandwich with cucumber, sprouts, spinach, avocado or even apple slices. All you need is 1/2 a cup and you’ve scored another serving! Better yet, replace the bread with 2-3 large leafy greens (Bibb or romaine works great) to create a satisfying lettuce wrap.  
  • Take a smoothie break. Blend 1/2 cup frozen berries, a banana and enough water to cover, and treat yourself to a yummy blended breakfast — plus 2 servings of fruit! Toss in a handful of spinach, and you’ll never taste the difference.
  • Try grilling or roasting. After you’ve taken meat or fish off the grill, throw on some veggies. You can even use the same marinade as long as everything bastes separately — no raw meat juices should touch your produce. Chunks of bell pepper, mushroom, onion and tomato always make a fun veggie kabob. Or, try oven-roasting cauliflower, broccoli or Brussels sprouts with a little olive oil to bring out their natural sweetness.
  • Go for color and variety. The best way to get all the nutrients your body needs is to eat fruits and vegetables from all 5 main color groups: Red/Pink (cherries, pomegranates, tomatoes, beets); Orange/Yellow (cantaloupe, squash, oranges, peaches); Green (asparagus, kale, kiwi, avocados); White (bananas, cauliflower, onion, mushrooms); and Blue/Purple (blueberries, plums, raisins, eggplant).
  • Sneak veggies into your favorite recipes. Shred/grate carrots or zucchini into turkey burgers or meatloaf for extra moisture and nutrients. Puree cooked cauliflower, red peppers or winter squash and add them to sauces or mashed potatoes. Load up your marinara sauce with chopped zucchini, onions, peppers, carrots, eggplant or squash.

Easy equivalents. When it comes to serving size, 1/2 cup is usually equal to 1 serving, but not always. Check out the following 1-serving equivalents.

  • 1/2 cup raw fruits or vegetables
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 banana                                                  = 1 serving
  • 1 large orange
  • 2 small bell peppers
  • 1 cup leafy greens

A few bad apples.

While most produce picks are beneficial, there are a few areas of caution:

  • Fruit juices — They’re a good source of nutrients, but they lack fiber and are loaded with excess calories and sugar. Eat whole fruit instead.
  • Starchy vegetables — White potatoes and corn, etc. should be limited in favor of more nutrient-dense vegetables, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.

But in general, remember this: The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better off you are. They’re the one source of food you can eat with abandon and not worry about gaining weight. Also remember this easy trick if you don’t want to bother counting servings: Always fill 1/2 your plate with fruits and vegetables. Now GO veg out!