Adding more fruits and vegetables to our diet doesn’t just add nutrition to our diet. It also helps fill us up so that we eat fewer unhealthy foods. As the balance of healthy vs unhealthy foods in our diet comes into balance, we feel better, move more easily and, ultimately, live longer.
The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are so great that it’s recommended we fill half of our plates with them. However, not all fruit and vegetable servings are equal.
The healthiest way to add fruits and vegetables is to:
- Eat many different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat larger quantities of fruits and vegetables (and less quantities of other foods).
- Eat fresh, whole fruit and fresh, roasted, lightly stir fried or steamed vegetables.
- Eat vegetables that are lightly cooked, so they retain their nutrients.
Unhealthy, or less healthy, ways to add fruits and vegetables to your diet include:
- Eating fried vegetables such as French fries, fried zucchini sticks or sweet potato fries.
- Eating one or two of your favorite fruits or vegetables and ignoring the rest.
- Filling up on dried fruits (that often contain sugar and taste like candy).
- Eating vegetables that have been cooked to death (think broccoli, cauliflower and carrots that are almost the same color after cooking).
- Drinking lots of fruit juice (which is stripped of fiber and much sweeter than plain fruit).
- Replacing fruits and vegetables with vitamin pills.
For those who hate fruits and vegetables, or only like one or two of each, embracing a diet heavy in produce isn’t easy. However, the further our diet is from the ideal, the more difference small changes will make.
The easiest way to start eating better is to start small and gradually build towards a better diet. Making one small change and maintaining it for a few weeks makes it easier to make an additional change. Small changes could include:
- Adding one extra fruit and vegetable serving a day
- Cutting French fries out of our fast-food orders
- Eating fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned ones
- Ordering veggie pizzas instead of sausage and pepperoni
- Eating vegetarian one night a week
- Replacing pasta with “spirilized” vegetables, cooked spaghetti squash or cauliflower “rice”
If we stick to it, a diet that is half fruits and vegetables will eventually feel more natural. We’ll learn new preparation methods, find recipes we like and maybe even experiment with some exotic “new to us” produce. The better we feel, the easier it will be to maintain positive changes.