Nearly everyone has been told to “eat your fruits and veggies” — and for good reason!
They are rich in fiber to help maintain a healthy gut and digestion. They are full of water to help hydrate tissues and lubricate joints. They are dense in vitamins and minerals to help feed and replace cells and make the body’s biochemistry work properly. They are even loaded with phytonutrients to help boost the immune system.
In fact, fruits and non-starchy vegetables pack almost everything yet contain very few calories. A serving of non-starchy vegetables is only 25 calories. A serving of fruit is only 60 calories. Best of all, these low-calorie foods have little to no saturated fat.
While there are plenty of reasons to heap on the fruits and vegetables, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states only 1 out of 10 Americans eats enough of them.
According to Tish J. Wright, RD, certified diabetes care and education specialist for UT Physicians Multispecialty-Bayshore, this lack of nutrition may cause people to feel tired or mentally foggy, or experience bowel problems. It also makes them more vulnerable to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
While dietary supplements can help make up for the shortage, they cannot provide fiber or fully replicate the nutrients and antioxidants from these plant-based foods.
“There’s really no getting around it. Children and adults really need to eat five servings of fruits and non-starchy vegetables a day for optimal health. That’s about two servings of fruits and about three servings of vegetables each day,” Wright said.
As a guide, a serving is a half-cup of cooked vegetables or a full cup of raw vegetables or fruit. A baseball-sized fruit, like an apple, pear, or orange is also considered a serving.
Five servings may sound like a large order, but it can be done. Learn the five ways to get five servings a day from a registered dietitian.
“Buy fruits and vegetables regularly so they become part of your lifestyle. You can’t eat them if you don’t have them,” Wright said. “Fresh is best, but frozen and canned are fine as long as they have limited sugar or salt. If you eat frozen meals, choose the ones with non-starchy vegetables; limit the ones with potatoes, corn, peas, or other starchy vegetables.”
Even if people only start with a few servings a day, they are already on a healthier path. As this routine becomes a habit, the number of fruits and vegetables eaten will begin to increase.
“An easy way to work in a few servings of fruits and vegetables at once is to throw them in a blender. Juicing is a good way to get a lot of vegetables into your body, especially if you’re not a fan of them. You can even add protein to your mix, like Greek yogurt, tofu, or pasteurized egg whites, to give it extra power,” Wright said. “Remember, you can drink your blends with your meals or take them on the go.”
When juicing, the amount of vegetables should be a little more than half of the fruit. Be sure to scrape the blender for pulp; it is important to drink the fiber.
“Chopped or diced vegetables can be added to almost anything, like soups, chili, stews, casseroles, pastas, sauces, omelets — even frozen meals,” Wright said. “When they’re in small pieces, like onion, for example, most people won’t notice or mind. The food will have more nutrition — and taste.”
Get vegetables of all colors to experiment with flavors and gain various nutrients. Chopped vegetables can also be used for snacks and to make tasty, low-fat soups.
“Some people who didn’t grow up eating vegetables say they don’t know how to cook them, but if you can cook steak and eggs, you can cook vegetables,” Wright said. “The internet is full of recipes, so you can read a recipe — or watch a video — and learn to cook lots of flavorful vegetables.”
Prepare vegetables in a variety of ways, such as broiling, steaming, baking, and stir-frying. Each method gives vegetables a different taste and texture, so try them all.
Main course them!
“Most of us were taught that fruits and vegetables were optional side items … or garnish. The truth is, half of our plate should be non-starchy vegetables with a little fruit, and the other half split between protein and grains,” Wright said. “You don’t have to be vegetarian to make vegetables the main course.”
Prepare vegetable-centric meals, such as stuffed vegetables, salads, curries, and stir-fries. Because vegetables are low in calories and fat, people can enjoy extra helpings.
There you have it! Follow these five ways and start getting your five a day!