By Michael A. Smith, MDpolyphenols to your system.
It’s well-established that fruits and vegetables can help you maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol, protect your bones, enhance your brain function, and promote healthy cell growth and repair. However, 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 may 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, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Preparation time, unfamiliarity, and old habits are other common obstacles to eating more fruits and vegetables. So here are some simple tips to help make adding fruits and veggies to your daily diet a little bit easier.
1. Soups & SaucesFruits and vegetables are perfect for making soups and sauces. You can easily meet and even exceed your daily vegetable requirements by adding a side vegetable soup or sauce for your favorite protein.
Berries, pomegranates and purple grapes can be used to enhance the flavor of just about any sauce. Throw in some fresh herbs and tomatoes to your standard spaghetti sauce for a splash of “wow factor.” And don’t forget, a little acid from lemons and limes can enhance flavor while providing important antioxidants.
2. Think Beyond LettuceSalads can be more than just lettuce and dressing. First, there are over 50 varieties of greens that can be used in salads. From there, the limit is your own imagination. Add peppers, spices, onions, dried fruits and fresh herbs. Right there alone, you just met your veggie intake for the day with one meal.
Also consider adding grilled meats, like your favorite steak, to your salad for a complete meal. Or, try this — grill some watermelon and add it in for texture and sweetness that will take your tastes buds on a roller coaster ride of flavor.
Another one of my favorites is grilled figs brushed with olive oil. They’re so amazing that they can make even boring, old iceberg lettuce exciting.
3. Disguise ThemJazz up your vegetables with spices, chopped nuts, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, or a specialty oil like walnut or sesame. Even a dash of grated Parmesan cheese can liven up the blandest green beans.
Now, this is one just about everyone will like. Try dipping any type of fruit in dark chocolate. Of course, only do this once in a while because even dark chocolate contains plenty of fat and sugar. Also, make sure that the chocolate you use is at least 70% cacao.
4. Fruit Smoothies & JuicingSmoothies rock! They’re versatile and totally delicious. With today’s commercial juicers and blenders, just about any fruit can be used. What’s really cool is that you can add vegetables to your favorite smoothie as well. The sweetness from the yogurt and fruit will pretty much mask any taste of the veggies.
Try this as well: Add some parsley to your favorite smoothie. The color may turn green, but the nutritional value will skyrocket without jeopardizing the taste at all.
5. Seaweed Flakes as a Salt SubstituteAre you a salt craver? Well, here’s some good news. You can put down that salt shaker and pick up the seaweed flakes. That’s right. Seaweed flakes add salty flavor without the health consequences associated with eating too much salt. Not only that, seaweed contains compounds like fucoidan, which is considered a longevity factor and is a staple of the Japanese diet.
6. Spread it OnYogurt plus grated vegetables and fruits makes a great spread for whole grain and sprouted breads. The more veggies or fruits that you grate and add to the yogurt, the more easily it spreads and binds to the bread. Try it. It’s actually delicious.
7. Use Fruit as SugarThis is one of my favorites. A friend of mine bakes low fat, high fiber multigrain muffins and uses apple pieces as the sweetener. She says pears or any white fruit work perfectly. Oh, by the way, the flesh of white fruit also cuts stroke risk by half.1
8. Use Vegetables as FillersDo you like meatballs or meatloaf? Try this: Use grated root vegetables as the binder instead of bread crumbs.
9. Give them the HeatCut 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.
Don’t forget: You can grill fruits as well. Again, I promise you that you’ll fall in love with grilled watermelon and figs. Try them now.
A Simple Recipe: Fruit SmoothieThis 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)
So what do you think? Sound easy enough? Bottom line is that we know we need to eat better, and that means eating more fruits and vegetables. If you follow just a couple of these tips, you can easily increase your intake to much “healthier” levels.
Good luck and bon appétit!
- Stroke. 2011 Nov;42(11):3190-5. Epub 2011 Sep 15.
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