Just 1 in 10 American adults meet the federal fruit and vegetable recommendations according to the CDC. The minimum daily intake of a combination of fruits and vegetables per day should be 5 (1/2 c) servings, yet it isn’t happening. The USDA reports that potatoes are the number one consumed vegetable, which I personally put in the starch category, then come tomatoes, which are actually a fruit, and then sweet corn, again I consider that a starch or at least a starchy vegetable, then comes onions and iceberg lettuce, which has little nutritional value. It doesn’t take a genius to see what most of these have in common – burgers! Would some Americans not eat any vegetables if they weren’t on, or with, their burgers?! So what’s the fuss? Fruits and Vegetables are nature’s medicine. Not only do they contain vitamins and minerals but a wide array of phytochemicals, which are plant nutrients, other than vitamins and minerals that help to keep us healthy. There are hundreds of phytochemicals found in foods. Each produce color has a different nutrient profile. They usually have long, hard to pronounce names, like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), found in green tea. Or ellagic acid found in berries. One way to get the hundreds of phytonutrients is to plan your meals with color in mind. Think Blue/Purple cabbage, Red cherries, Yellow/Orange carrots, White cauliflower and Green broccoli. Not only will your plate be pretty but nutritious, too.
There seems to be an ongoing debate in the nutrition world about what diet is best. Due to biochemical individuality, one size may not fit all. But one thing that most diets have in common is vegetables. Diets as diverse as Vegan to Paleo incorporate the use of lots of vegetables. Often when people think of the Paleo Diet they think meat but, vegetables are key to this diet, just like so many others. So to celebrate Spring add a variety of garden-fresh fruit and vegetables to your plate.
Tips for incorporating colorful choices into your daily diet:
- Start with breakfast. Adding leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner to your morning eggs is easy, convenient and reduces food waste.
- Go ethnic! Many ethnic foods are loaded with plant foods. Asian foods use an array of dark greens, including bok choy and Chinese long beans to name a few. In the Philippines, they use bitter melon, which has been shown to keep blood sugar stable. The Mediterranean diet uses a variety of fresh herbs, many of which are antivirals & antiseptics. Tomatoes, artichokes, beans, escarole, fennel, citrus fruits as well as many other colorful fruits and vegetables are incorporated into the uber-healthy Mediterranean Diet.
- Make the Main Dish a salad for dinner. You can still have flank steak tonight just put it on a bed of lettuce mixed with other vegetables and drizzle with your favorite dressing.
- For variety make lettuce cups or wraps instead of a regular sandwich for lunch.
- Meatless Monday is a trend followed by many families. It is a good way to experiment with new vegetable recipes, keep your food budget intact and help the planet.
- Make half your plate vegetables. Swapping out half the plate filled with meat for half the plate filled with vegetables is a healthier way to menu plan.
- Shop Farmers Market! What a great way to support local farmers, have freshly picked produce and have fun all at the same time.
- Swap out chips for crunchy vegetables to use with hummus and guacamole.
- Plant a vegetable garden. Even those in very small spaces can plant container gardens or grow herbs on the window sill. We have raised vegetables beds on the far side of our front yard. People walk over from all around the neighborhood to admire it. It’s a great way to meet people.
- Juicing. Juicers can be very expensive but even a cheap one can allow you to drink a variety of vegetables you may not normally cook regularly.
- Swap out regular pasta for spaghetti squash or spiralized vegetables. It is fun and easy to make.
- Use cauliflower or sweet potatoes as the crust for pizza.
- When you make chili add vegetables.
- In the past, three bean salad, carrot & raisin salad and Waldorf salad were all popular. They are easy, tasty and worth trying.