You have heard it - probably since you were 5 - eat your fruits and vegetables! And they weren't wrong. You should eat your fruits and vegetables. A lot of them - eight to ten servings, in fact - and from every colour of the rainbow!
Why are Veggies so important?
Vegetables provide the broadest range of nutrients and phytochemicals of any kind of food. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fiber and have been shown to help in the prevention of many diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.
Don't forget your fresh fruits!
Fruits provide an excellent source of antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals (Vitamin C, carotenes, flavonoids and polyphenols) and, like vegetables, can be beneficial in the prevention of many degenerative diseases.
Fruits do contain quite a bit of natural fruit sugars (primarily, fructose) and while there are many health benefits of fruits, it is wise not to overdo it - stick to no more then 4 servings per day - or 2, 8oz glasses of fresh fruit juice (juice you have made yourself). If you are hypoglycemic, diabetic, have candidiasis or gout - stick to fruit in its whole form.
Although technically a sugar, fructose is used by the body differently than other sugars. Fructose needs to be broken down in the liver and as a result blood sugar levels do not rise as rapidly as they do when other simple sugars are eaten.
Why is Local and in Season best?
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables in season and from local sources, if possible. If not, chances are they have been picked before they are ripe (and are mineral deficient as these minerals are taken from the soil, as they ripen), probably have been sprayed to make them last while they sit in a truck or a boat, transported from some sunning destination miles away - all the while, losing valuable nutrients.
It is always great to support local farmers too. And who doesn't love when those fresh, local strawberries, or cucumbers, or tomatoes come to market? Don't they look, smell and taste a whole lot better?
I know it is tough not to have our favourites all year long. I could not go a whole year without blueberries, for example. But you can always buy them organic, frozen during the winter months and then fresh and local, if possible, come summer!
If you can't get Fruits & Veggies fresh, then opt for frozen. Stay away from canned, dried, pickled or processed vegetables & fruits and fruit juices - all loaded with added sugars!
Do I need to buy Organic?
It is important to choose local and organic when possible - especially for those fruits and veggies on the EWG's (Environmental Working Group) "dirty dozen" list. This is a list of the worst offenders when it comes to pesticides and the ones you should try to find organic sources.
EWG's 2021 Dirty Dozen List (the 2022 list should be published soon!)
Kale, Collard and Mustard Greens
Bell and Hot Peppers
Okay, so now we know what to buy and how much we should be eating a day - how the heck do we do that? I am not a rabbit, you might say?
Tips to Increase your daily servings of Fruits and Veggies
- Buy many different kinds of fruits and vegetables when you shop so you have plenty of choices - if that is what you have in the fridge, that is what you will eat!
- Stock up on frozen vegetables for easy cooking so that you always have plenty of choices - I like to add frozen beans or peas or broccoli to soups or stews or casseroles.
- Keep fruits and vegetables top of mind - right where you can see them - keep a bowl of cut up veggies on the top shelf of the fridge or a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter or on your desk at work.
- Make a big, tossed salad with several kinds of greens, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, scallions and sprouts (or other vegetables that won’t spoil). Put it in a glass container with an airtight lid and take out to have with lunches and dinners.
- Speaking of salads, try lots of different kinds, all full of good fruits and veggies; spinach salad, beet salad, fruit salad, chickpea or quinoa salad with lots of veggies added in, warm summer vegetable salad with feta and olive oil....yum
- Add fruits and vegetables to lunch by having them in soups - this is perhaps my favourite tip. By making big batch soups, full of vegetables, I can make sure that the whole family is getting 3 or 4 servings of goodness every lunch. Check out my Post about some of my favourite yummy soups, chock full of veggies!
- Carry cut up veggies in your purse, knapsack or briefcase. Have them on hand when preparing dinner so you don't snack on the bad stuff (I am so guilty of this!) and have them available on the table for the kids to munch on if they are hungry before dinner. You may not want them to "spoil" their dinner and I get that - but it will ensure they eat more veggies!
- Use fresh fruit in oatmeal or smoothies; you can even add greens like spinach to your morning smoothies without compromising the taste.
- Increase portions when you serve vegetables - make sure that they are the biggest part of your meal. Take a look at your plate? Do the vegetables take up at least half of the plate? They should.
- When you are out and looking for lunch, take advantage of the fresh fruit and raw veggies at salad bars
- Add extra varieties of vegetables when you prepare soups or sauces (eg. Puree some spinach or chop up some zucchini in your pasta sauce) and choose vegetable-based pasta sauces like marinara sauce.
- Choose fresh fruit as a dessert. I like to add some organic plain yogurt and a drizzle of natural honey - for the kids, of course;) Or even make a sugar-free chocolate dipping sauce. It is amazing how many fruits we can eat this way:)!
Variety is key!
Fruits and vegetables come in so many colours. Why?
The colour indicates the phytonutrients (eg. lycopenes - a bright red carotenoid or anthocyanins - a flavonoid giving a plant a red to deep blue or purple colour - that each plant contains and that each plant uses to protect itself from threats like disease, cell damage, bugs, even from the harmful rays of the sun. And each of these phytonutrients have pronounced health benefits for us too.
According to a 2009 phytonutrients report (based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys), 8 out of 10 people in the US are falling short in virtually every color category of phytonutrients
Based on the report,
69% of Americans are falling short in green phytonutrients
78% of Americans are falling short in red phytonutrients
86% of Americans are falling short in white phytonutrients
88% of Americans are falling short in purple and blue phytonutrients
79% of Americans are falling short in yellow and orange phytonutrients
* Info from Food Revolution Network
So to ensure that we are getting the maximum protection that nature can give us - to get the complete range of vitamins and minerals - we need variety. We need to get out of our - we only eat peas - vegetable rut and eat the rainbow!
Make it fun and Eat the Rainbow!
Make it a family challenge. Brainstorm all of the foods that are the
of the rainbow. For Example:
Red: Cherries, Tomatoes, Peppers
Orange: Carrots, Yams, Mango
Yellow: Bananas, Pineapple, Summer Squash
Green: Broccoli, Greens, Celery
Blue: Blueberries, Plums
Purple: Eggplant, Blackberries, Purple cabbage
See how many others you can find.
How many have you tried? Which are your favourites?
Learn about new foods and how to eat or prepare them. Some ideas to get you started:
Eggplant (purple)- a great source of fiber (2.5g per 100g) and a good source of vitamin B1, B6 and potassium as well as copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, niacin and folic acid. Serving ideas - Add cubed eggplant to your stir-fry or pop it on the grill marinated with avocado oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic. Make homemade baba ghanoush by mixing 1 med. roasted eggplant (pureed), 2 cloves garlic, 3 Tbsp. tahini (or natural peanut butter works too), 2 Tbsp. lemon juice and 1 Tbsp. olive oil.
Asparagus (green) - is very high in protein (relative to other vegetables) and rich in many nutrients such as potassium, Vitamin K, folic acid, Vitamin C and A, riboflavin, thiamine and Vitamin B6. Serving ideas - roast them along with other vegetables, add them chopped to an omlette, steam and server with lemon or stir-fry asparagus with garlic, shiitake mushrooms and chicken.
Challenge your family to eating at least 1 Fruit or Vegetable from each colour group - if you only eat one from each colour group, you are already at 6 different fruits and veggies!
The Bottom Line
Eat them. Eat lots of them. Different colours, different varieties. Ideally local, fresh, in season (or frozen) and organic, but eat them!