Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is a cornerstone of good health. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help you:
1. Keep blood pressure under control.
2. Reach and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
3. Keep your arteries flexible.
4. Protect your bones.
5. Keep the eyes, brain, digestive system, and just about every other part of the body healthy.
But many of us have trouble putting that knowledge into practice and getting five or more (emphasis on the "more") servings a day.
One reason you might not be tapping into the power of produce is that you think fruits and vegetables are too expensive. That's not necessarily so. You can buy three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables for well under $2 a day.
Preparation time, unfamiliarity, and old habits are other obstacles to eating more fruits and vegetables. Here are a baker's dozen of suggestions for tipping aside these barriers and enjoying delicious and nutritious foods.
1. Know your needs.
The guidelines recommend a minimum of 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables a day. More is better. To calculate your fruit and vegetable needs, go to www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov.
2. Set a goal.
If fruits and vegetables are minor items in your menu, start by eating one extra fruit or vegetable a day. When you're used to that, add another, and keep going.
3. Be sneaky.
Adding finely grated carrots or zucchini to pasta sauce, meatloaf, chili, or a stew is one way to get an extra serving of vegetables. Cookbooks like Deceptively Delicious or The Sneaky Chef offer ways to slip vegetables and fruits into all sorts of recipes.
4. Try something new.
It's easy to get tired of apples, bananas, and grapes. Try a kiwi, mango, fresh pineapple, or some of the more exotic choices now found in many grocery stores.
5. Blend in.
A fruit smoothie (recipe below) is a delicious way to start the day or tide you over until dinner.
6. Be a big dipper.
Try dipping vegetables into hummus or another bean spread, some spiced yogurt, or a bit of ranch dressing. Or slather some peanut butter on a banana or slices of apple.
7. Spread it on.
Try mashed avocado as a dip with diced tomatoes and onions. Puréed cooked spinach is also a delicious dip. Either can also be used as a sandwich spread.
8. Start off right.
Ditch your morning donut for an omelet with onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Top it with some salsa to wake up your palate. Or boost your morning cereal or oatmeal with a handful of strawberries, blueberries, or dried fruit.
9. Drink up.
Having a 6-ounce glass of low-sodium vegetable juice instead of a soda gives you a full serving of vegetables and spares you 10 teaspoons or more of sugar.
10. Give them the heat treatment.
Cut up onions, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, turnips — whatever you have on hand — coat with olive oil, add a dash of balsamic vinegar, and roast at 350° until done. Grilling is another way to bring out the taste of vegetables. Use roasted or grilled veggies as a side dish, put them on sandwiches, or add them to salads.
11. Let someone else do the work.
Food companies and grocers offer an ever-expanding selection of prepared produce, from ready-made salads to frozen stir-fry mixes and take-along sliced apples and dip.
12. Improve on nature.
Jazz up vegetables with spices, chopped nuts, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, or a specialty oil like walnut or sesame oil. Even a dash of grated Parmesan cheese can liven up the blandest green beans.
13. Get help from Willy Wonka.
Try any type of fruit dipped in dark chocolate: what could be a tastier two-fer? In addition to a delectable dessert, you get plenty of heart-healthy antioxidants, some fiber, and a host of vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients.
Simple fruit smoothie
This is a great way to use bananas that are beginning to get too ripe. (You can always cut ripe bananas into thick slices, freeze in a plastic bag, and thaw when you're ready to make another smoothie.)
Makes 1 serving
¾ cup plain yogurt
½ cup berries (fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, or other berry of your choice)
½ ripe banana
½ cup pineapple juice
Optional: 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (for healthy omega-3 fats)
Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend to combine. You can branch out by adding a dash of ground cinnamon, a splash of vanilla, some mint, or other flavoring.