If you are anything like the average American then you are in dire need of a produce overhaul. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were recently released indicating that Americans are not eating nearly enough produce. The latest report found that 87% of Americans are not getting enough vegetables in their diet and 75% are not eating enough fruit. On the other hand approximately 50% of adults in the US report taking at least one supplement per day. This tells us that people care enough about their health if they are willing to purchase and take supplements but not enough to consistently consume enough spinach and broccoli. The problem for most Americans is that you can’t supplement your way out of a nutrient-empty diet.
Eating fruits and veggies—and preferably a variety of different types and colors—feeds your cells with phytonutrients that act as information for the body and literally have the potential to turn on and off different gene expressions. From a research perspective, eating produce is consistently effective in reducing risk of disease but this is not always the case with supplements like multi-vitamins, which continue to show mixed outcomes. While there is nothing wrong with including supplements in your regimen, they should be combined with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
The amazing thing about fruits and vegetables is that they are more effective than most drugs at preventing long-term risk of disease and unlike drugs, there are no side effects! One very new study found that eating red, purple and black fruits and vegetables helped protect against inflammation observed in Diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Another large study from 2014 found that the more produce people eat, the less likely they are to die prematurely. Eating seven+ servings of fruits and vegetables per day was associated with a reduced risk of death by 42%. That’s pretty powerful data!
Researchers from Harvard published a paper reporting that if everyone added one additional serving of fruits or vegetables to their diet every day, we could prevent 3.5 million deaths from heart disease in just two years. The Harvard scientists calculated how to help people consume more fruits and vegetables: reduce the cost. They reported that dropping the price of fruits and vegetables by 10% and raising the price of soda by 10% is estimated to prevent 515,000 deaths from Cardiovascular Disease by 2035.
There is no shortage of data to substantiate the benefits of including produce in the diet but yet people continue to skimp on fruits and vegetables. Use the following tips to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables and open up your body to a whole host of benefits:
- Eat vegetables with every meal
The American culture has taught us to expect cereal and pastries for breakfast, grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch and chicken fingers or a hot dog with French fries for dinner. But where do the veggies fit in?! It’s time to create new expectations that incorporate vegetables at every meal, including breakfast. Try making a breakfast bowl with sautéed greens, sweet potatoes, over-easy eggs and avocado. At lunch and dinner your plate should be 50% non-starchy vegetables.
- Make smoothies
Throw some green vegetables like spinach, kale, swiss chard, or watercress into your smoothies to ramp up your vegetable intake. This is a super easy way to add 2-3 servings of vegetables without even tasting or noticing a difference.
- Buy frozen
Try purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables to help save money and cut back on waste. Purchasing fruits and vegetables can be wasteful if you end up throwing away half of the produce because it is rotten. Frozen produce is just as, if not more, nutritious as fresh produce.
- Get creative
Incorporate new vegetables that you have never tried before and jump outside of your salad comfort zone. There are so many ways to make vegetables fun and flavorful! The key to doing anything long-term is to find a way to make the experience more pleasurable. Explore new recipes that will allow you to enjoy eating vegetables. Try the following vegetable-based recipes: Shrimp Fried Cauliflower Rice, Brigid Buddha Bowl, Shredded Crucifer Salad, or Spaghetti Squash and ‘Cheese’.