They’re full of the nutrients you need for a healthy heart.
That familiar refrain “Eat your vegetables!” still hasn’t sunk in. Only about one in 10 adults in the United States eats the amount recommended by the current federal dietary guidelines. And we’re not doing much better when it comes to fruit, according to a recent report from the CDC (see “How much should you be eating?” below).
These dismal data don’t bode well for the nation’s health, because eating plenty of produce can help people reach (or stay) at a healthy weight. And fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as fiber, minerals, and vitamins that may prevent heart disease.
Too much takeout
Lack of time is one reason people don’t eat more vegetables, says Linda Delahanty, director of nutrition and behavioral research at the Diabetes Center at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “Buying and preparing vegetables takes time. Many people eat on the go and pick up take-out foods. They order a main dish, but not always a side salad or vegetable,” says Delahanty.
Also, people often stick with what’s familiar and eat the same old corn, peas, and potatoes. Most don’t experiment with different types of vegetables or new ways to prepare them, says Delahanty.
A better bargain than you think
Finally, many people perceive fruits and vegetables as pricey. But the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that the average price for a one-cup serving of fruit or vegetables is only about 50 cents. Compared with a small bag of chips, a can of soda, or another nutrient-poor snack, produce is a real bargain.
Here are eight suggestions to put more produce on your plate.
1. Keep track and make a plan.Take stock of how many fruits and veggies you eat now. Note the two exceptions for counting your daily tally: For raw leafy salad greens, two cups equals a cup of vegetables. For dried fruit, a half-cup equals one cup. A cup of 100% juice can count as one of your daily cups. But you’re better off eating whole fruits or vegetables, which contain heart-protecting fiber, so go easy on that option.
2. Go for convenience. If peeling, chopping, and cleaning up feels like too much work, take advantage of pre-cut, pre-washed fresh fruit and vegetables, such as cubed melon or pineapple, baby carrots, celery sticks, and bagged salad greens. Super-market salad bars often offer a wide variety of veggies and fruits. Or pick up cooked vegetables from a restaurant.
3. Focus on frozen. Nutrition-wise, frozen vegetables are similar to—perhaps even better than—fresh. They’re picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately flash-frozen, which helps retain their vitamins and phytochemicals, the naturally occur-ring substances in plants thought to lower heart disease risk. Also, buying frozen helps avoid spoilage that can occur with fresh produce, which can be useful for people who have unpredictable schedules or who travel frequently.
4. Stay in season. Fresh fruit and vegetables tend to be less expensive when they’re in season. For the freshest selection, seek out a farmer’s market, or pick your own fruit and vegetables at an orchard or a farm.
5. Branch out. Try eating at least one new fruit or vegetable every week. Challenge yourself to “eat a rainbow” by adding as many different-colored fruits and vegetables as you can to your diet: red peppers, oranges, butternut squash, spinach, blue-berries, and purple cabbage.
6. Add on extra flavor.Make your steamed vegetables more flavorful by topping with one or more of these:
olive, nut, or sesame oil
chopped, toasted nuts
Parmesan or feta cheese
fresh, minced herbs or a dried herb and spice blend.
7. Try dips and spreads. Dunk cut-up broccoli, peppers, or carrots into hummus, guacamole, or your favorite salad dressing. Slather nut butter on apple or banana slices. Dip orange slices or strawberries into melted dark chocolate.
8. Sip soups. Vegetable-rich stews and soups are an easy way to eat a variety of vegetables. In the summer, try cold soups like gazpacho or fruit soups made with berries or melons.