Eat your vegetables!
Remember how our mothers told us this repeatedly during our childhood? We understand that’s what we should do, but how do we incorporate 9 servings of fruits and vegetables, as recommended by the USDA, into our busy lives? That’s seems like an awful lot.
But I’m pleased to report that there are easy ways to add more fruits and vegetables to our diet. Keep in mind that eating our vitamins and minerals, as opposed to swallowing pills, is the best way to achieve a balanced diet.
Think of fruits and vegetables as nature’s whole food box of goodness—a package of tasty nutrients. Scientists continue to uncover the benefits of vegetables and fruits; just a fraction of the nutrients in fruits have been identified and their health effects demonstrated. Here are a few examples: edamame (soy beans) contains isoflavones, which have been found to lower inflammation, a product of stress; carrots really do help us see, since they contain Vitamin A and beta-carotene; dark, leafy vegetables—turnip greens, spinach, and kale—contain antioxidants and fiber. Fiber is our friend, because it absorbs water into the gut and fights constipation.
Nine servings shouldn’t frighten you; think three fruits/veggies to each meal. What exactly is a single serving? Here are some examples:
32 grapes ¼ cantaloupe
3 medium plums 8 strawberries
3 broccoli spears 2 medium carrots
16 baby carrots 2 stalks of celery
½ acorn squash 1 medium grapefruit
Sometimes the “rap” against eating fresh fruits and vegetables is that they are expensive and inconvenient. Purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables in season will help reduce your grocery bill. Plus, locally grown produce is good for the environment because it reduces the distance from farm to table.
With fall in the air, it’s time to bring squash, cauliflower, apples, and pomegranates to the plate. However, when time is an issue, go down the frozen foods aisle at the market and purchase store brand-frozen veggies—without sauce. These can go into the microwave for a quick, nutritious side dish. Try to keep an array of herbs in your pantry to season your vegetables. Be careful with the salt and butter—too much can be harmful to your health. Roasting with garlic and onion gives flavor without expanding your waistline.
Did you know that studies have found that people who eat more fruits and vegetables weigh less and have lower rates of heart attack, stroke, and cancer? So aim to have your plate look like a rainbow, with half of the plate consisting of two or three colorful vegetables and the other half whole grains and lean proteins. That’s a healthy plate of delicious food!
If you are not eating 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, don’t worry. You can start today by adding just one more to your diet—maybe carrots or celery as a snack. Nothing happens overnight; healthy eating habits take thought and planning. But once you’ve begun, you’ll be on your way to creating healthy families and a lifetime of good eating.
Let food be your medicine. Our mothers were right after all. Be well.
Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH, is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and holistic medicine. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she speaks at many community forums and delivers health awareness presentations. Dr. Morris is active in social networking and has made guest appearances on the Weather Channel’s Weekend View and Atlanta’s Fox 5 News.