When I was growing up in Florida, the campaign was “Fruits & Vegetables: More Matters.” Early in my career, I remember going into elementary school classrooms and teaching them about the wide variety of fruits and vegetables and how it could help them grow, play sports, and be healthy. Now that I have been in practice for nearly ten years, I am surprise by how many of my adult clients think they are consuming sufficient vegetables if they get lettuce and tomato on a sandwich at lunch and one cup of vegetables at dinner.
The USDA recommends adults consume five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day, with vegetables making up the majority (not the minority) of these servings. A serving, by USDA’s definition, is one cup of fresh fruit, one cup of raw vegetables or a ½ cup of cooked vegetables, or two cups of leafy greens.
Decades of research links high fruit and vegetable intake to reducing one’s risk for multiple disease states, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, along with increased morbidity and mortality. In terms of weight loss, a high intake of fruits and vegetables comes with a large intake of fiber, which can increase satiety (the filling of fullness). Fresh fruits and vegetables are also lower in total calories, which can assist with creating a daily caloric deficit.
Trying to meet the vegetable requirement at dinner alone is not recommended. Aim to spread your vegetables into breakfast, lunch, and snacks as well. Here are some ideas for how to accomplish this:
- Make small bags of raw veggies like carrots, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes and take them with you during the day. Challenge yourself to finish it before dinner!
- Add vegetables to your morning omelet. Use whatever is leftover from the day before or use mixed greens, like spinach. Making crustless egg white quiches with spinach and mushrooms is an easy way to prep eggs ahead of time.
- Add fresh or frozen greens to a smoothie. If you are adding fruit, you will barely taste the vegetables over the sweetness of the fruit.
- Homemade vegetable soups are great for lunch. You can throw any vegetable in chicken broth and cook it in a crock pot on Sunday. This way, your lunches are made for the week ahead, and you will consume at least two servings of vegetables without even trying.
- Ask for double vegetables on your sandwich when you order out at lunch. You can also ask for a side salad at any restaurant or swap your normal entrée for an entrée salad.
Meeting this recommendation can be challenging for some given the taste and texture of some vegetables. Here are some ways to “hide” vegetables in entrées and meals to meet the requirement without much hassle:
- Try wilting mixed greens into tomato sauces to add to pastas. You can also hide them in soups, especially if you puree them.
- Cauliflower rice is taking our country by storm! You can make this fresh or heat it up from frozen. Use cauliflower rice as a replacement for rice in stir-fries, or try cauliflower pizza crust or cauliflower “mashed potatoes” for a lower carbohydrate version of your favorite foods!
- Baking with vegetables is a wonderful solution. Think zucchini bread or pumpkin muffins.
- Add shredded zucchini and onion to ground turkey or beef burgers or meatballs. This will add more moister to the meat along with fiber and nutrients.
- Experiment with different types of veggie noodles. Zucchini noodles or “zoodles” are very popular, along with sweet potato noodles and butternut squash noodles. Toss these with pesto, tomato sauce, or olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
Fresh fruit is easy to come by in spring and summer but slightly more challenging when not in season. I recommend roughly 2-3 servings of fresh fruit each day for women and anywhere from 2-4 for men (this may vary depending on the amount of carbohydrates one is trying to consume in a day). Here are some recommendations for getting the best tasting, and most nutrient-dense, fruits into your day:
- Buy fruit in season! Going to farmer’s markets and buying local produce is the best way to accomplish this.
- During the summer when berries are abundant, buy some extra boxes and freeze them. They will be a wonderful addition to muffins, oatmeal, or just as is in the colder weather months
- Try different varieties of your classic favorite. Instead of Navel oranges, try Cara cara oranges or blood oranges, especially in the winter months. Go for different types of apples in the fall and a variety of melons in the spring.
- Avoid dried fruit and fruit cups when possible due to the added sugars. As a substitution for fruit cups, create a homemade fruit salad and instead of dried fruit, try freeze-dried fruits which have no added sugar and a completely different texture.
- Fruit juice and premade smoothies come with a lot of sugar and little to no fiber. Blend your fruits at home versus juicing them or buying pre-made smoothies. This will allow you to get all the fiber and nutrition the fruit has to offer without additives or extra sugars.
I hope this inspires you to increase your intake of nature’s best offerings. You can enjoy seasonal fruits and vegetables all year long, and your body and waistline will thank you for it.