Fresh produce is abundant in the summertime. And there is something incredibly special about fruits and veggies straight off the vine, pulled out of the earth or plucked from a tree. This is when freshness, nutrition and flavor is at the absolute peak. We are so lucky to live in the Monadnock region where farm stands and farmers markets are everywhere. Not to mention our own gardens which are at an all-time high this year with the COVID crisis.
If there is one thing every scientist can agree when it comes to nutrition, it’s to make sure you are eating plenty of vegetables.
In a comprehensive study which was conducted in 2017, researchers reviewed scientific literature going back 70 years. They evaluated over 50,000 studies finding that 142 of them looked directly at the link between specific foods and rates of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality.
The 142 studies looked at the eating habits and health outcomes of 2.1 million people and followed them for years and sometimes for decades. When individuals consumed 10 servings of fruits and veggies per day, there was an unprecedented benefit in preventing chronic disease and premature death. The bottom line – eat 10 servings per day of fruits and veggies.
How can you do that?
Before you get overwhelmed by that goal, let’s take a closer look.
What is a serving of fruit or vegetable?
■1 cup raw leafy greens
■½ cup other vegetables, raw or cooked (potatoes, tomatoes, squash, peppers, cabbage, etc.)
■1 medium fruit such as an apple, banana, orange, or pear
■½ cup chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
One cup is equivalent to about the size of your fist and ½ cup is more like half of your fist. Since we are used to eating large servings in our culture, this goal is not all that difficult.
Meal choices matter throughout the day
Let’s start with breakfast. If you add one serving of fruit on your cereal or yogurt, a healthy handful of veggies to your scrambled eggs or add some greens to your smoothie; that is one serving.
A great way to maximize veggies is to choose soup or salad for lunch. You can generally get up to 4 servings at this meal.
So, you have five down and five to go. A midafternoon snack of hummus and veggies can 1 to 2 servings.
Dinner is easy if you just fill up half of your dinner plate with fruits or veggies.
But what if you don’t love the flavor of veggies?
If you grew up on the modern industrialized diet which is full of processed and artificial food which generally means added salt, sugar, and fat, then fresh vegetables will taste bland to you. Your taste buds have become used to foods that are over salted, and over seasoned with sugar and fat.
But the good news is that our taste buds’ preferences are not fixed and can change based on exposure. Our taste buds can regenerate every eight to 12 days. The best strategy is to keep exposing them to new flavors.
Seven simple tips to add more veggies to your day
1. Be creative in the cooking process by using seasoning on veggies like herbs, spices, salad dressing or olive oil along with lime, lemon or balsamic vinegar which enhances the flavor of most veggies.
2. Puree veggies and use them as a base for soup along with seasonings like garlic and ginger.
3. Add veggies to everything. You can add veggies to pasta sauce, pizza, lasagna, casseroles, and chili, or to cooked quinoa, brown rice, or barley. Or chop up fresh vegetables like spinach, cucumbers, mushrooms, peas, or kale and toss them into whatever you’re cooking.
4. Double, triple or quadruple the amounts of veggies called for in recipes. This is a simple practice you can apply to soup, stews, salads, casseroles, and egg dishes. Plus, it adds more complex flavor to your dishes.
5. Marinate your favorite vegetables by chopping them and adding them to a marinade, for a few hours to soften and flavor them before cooking or just before use. A great marinade is a mix of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, lemon and (optionally) olive oil. You can use this with mushrooms, broccoli, string beans, asparagus, collards, cauliflower, and lots more.
6. Use them as wraps – Simply wrap veggies up in a lettuce leaf or a steamed leaf of collard greens or cabbage or make regular wraps with a whole grain a tortilla. Add your favorite sauces, salsa, or spices and your favorite veggies.
7. When you get home from a shopping trip, wash and cut some snacking vegetables and store them in the fridge for easy access. Use glass storage containers so you don’t forget about them. You can also make your own veggie dips for when the snacking urge strikes. Hummus, white bean dip and guacamole are good dips for veggies.
Ruth Clark, author of the best-selling book Cool the Fire: Curb Inflammation and Balance Hormones, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a master’s in Public Health and over 35 years of experience. She lives in Sharon with an office in Peterborough. Ruth specializes in mid-life and older women who are struggling with weight, mood and fatigue to regain their energy and vitality. You can reach her at Ruth@RuthRD.com.