Why Should I Eat More Fruits & Vegetables?
We often hear to eat our fruits and vegetables, but why is this so important? Does it really make a difference in your overall health? There can be a lot of misinformation and confusion about diet and nutrition. However, eating more fruits and vegetables is one thing that most all dietary patterns, nutrition experts, and medical professionals can agree upon. This is because there is so much evidence to support the benefits of a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables. A recent large study looking at the importance of fruits and vegetables with respect to weight found that as fruit and vegetable intake goes up, weight goes down. There were many fruits and vegetables that were found to be associated with a lower weight such as berries, apples and pears, cruciferous vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and all other fruits and non-starchy vegetables (Bertoia et. al., 2015). The study also found the two vegetables that were not to be protective against weight were corn and potatoes, two of the most popular vegetable choices in the United States (Bertoia et. al., 2015). Consuming a diet build around fruits and vegetables can help protect against chronic disease and protect against overweight and obesity.
So why aren’t we eating more vegetables? With the overwhelming evidence that shows the benefits of these foods, why are they not more common on our plates? Many people do not consume fruits and vegetables because of the cost, they find them difficult to cook, and they tend to like other foods better. Therefore, we need to make these foods more cost effective, convenient, and craveable.
There are many tips and tricks to buy fruits and vegetables at a lower cost. The most important thing is to buy what is in your food budget with the ultimate goal of having an eating pattern heavy in fruits and vegetables. Build your menu around the available fruits and vegetables that work for your budget, food tastes, and shopping preferences. As we get into the summer months, a variety of fruits and vegetables will be available at decent prices. For now, make sure you are checking what is on sale. Grocery stores typically have a newspaper or flyer that lists the deals for the week. Pick one up, or see if your local grocery store mails out the sales! Another tip is to be flexible. If you’re like me, you enjoy trying new recipes and expanding your dinner (or lunch) possibilities. If a recipe calls for a specific fruit or vegetable that is not in season or is at a high cost, be flexible. Think about other fruits or vegetables you could use to replace that food, or purchase the food canned or frozen. Canned and frozen products can be great budget-friendly options to get more fruits and vegetables on your plate. They typically have a long shelf life and can be great on-hand ingredients to keep in your pantry or freezer. Just make sure you check the labels and choose the no added sugar or salt options. Think of the value you are getting when you choose to eat fruits and vegetables.
In addition to thinking about how much you pay for fruits and vegetables, also think about what you are getting by eating them (i.e. your return on your investment).
A great way to make fruits and vegetables more convenient is to prep. This helps to make sure that fruits and vegetables are ready to go when you need them. You can buy single-serve bags if it is within your budget to help reduce prep time. You can also have fruit washed and ready to eat so it is easier to grab when you need it. When packing lunch, add ready-to-eat produce (whether you bought it that way or prepped it yourself) to your lunch to make you more likely to eat it. Also, pre-prep salad and other vegetables once a week to help reduce prep time when you are short on time for a meal. How far you take ‘prep’ is up to you. You can prep ingredients by cutting up vegetables, fruits, or cooking whole grains and healthy proteins ahead of time to use throughout the week. Or you can prep entire meals in advance to use throughout the week (or months if you freeze meals).
Make your fruits and vegetables craveable by adding flavor with oil and seasonings. A great example is flipping boring steamed green beans by sautéing in olive oil with lemon zest. You can also make your own salad dressings and marinades to liven up your vegetables. An easy tip is to use an empty jar and add an acid such as lemon or balsamic vinegar, an oil such as olive oil, and your favorite seasonings. Shake the jar well and serve over your favorite salad. This can help reduce the cost of store-bought dressings and make healthier options with less added sugar or sodium.
Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is a great step towards consuming a healthy diet. Try to flavor your vegetables with olive oil rather than solid fats (such as butter, or bacon fat) and use seasonings with limited to no sodium. For delicious fruit and vegetable recipes, check out Med Instead of Meds.
Bertoia et. al. PLOS Medicine. 2015; 13(1): e1001956.