How do I Possibly Eat all those Fruits and Vegetables?

You want to improve your eating, but you just don't know if you can eat a crock of broccoli, or a head of romaine lettuce.

You want to reduce your heart disease risk, but the idea of steaming vegetables for each meal just doesn't sit well with you.

Not only do you feel guilty about not wanting to eat these profoundly healthy products, you don't even know which recommendations to follow-there are so many! You hear amounts anywhere from 5 servings/day to 9-14 servings/day. You hear these foods will treat anything from heart disease to high blood pressure (which you will surely get from reading articles about foods you don't like to eat). You know all these things, and yet you still don't know how to manage any of this.

Let me try to help you.

First, let me explain where these numbers come from. The "5 a day" is a recommendation from the National Cancer Institute. Research suggests that following these recommendations you may be able to reduce your risk of certain types of cancer. Whether it is the plant chemicals involved in cancer reduction, or the fact that eating more fruits and vegetables means consuming less protein and saturated fat (primarily from animal products), populations of people following these guidelines seem to have lower cancer rates.

The "9 - 14 servings/day" resulted from the DASH study, the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. This study showed that consuming between 9 and 14 servings of vegetables and fruits each day helped reduce blood pressure as much as certain medications. If you are taking blood pressure medications, talk to your health care provider before trying this diet-but it is certainly worth considering if you have experienced side effects from your medication.

Before I go further, let me just tell you that if you want to try this approach, you should know is considered a serving size. This way you won't worry about spending your entire budget at the produce counter. A serving of fruit is about the size of a baseball or 4 ounces of juice; a serving of vegetables is 1/2 cup of cooked or 1 cup of fresh vegetables.

Now, let's talk about some ways to sneak these foods into your daily meal plan.

What about using a banana instead of jelly the next time you make a peanut butter sandwich? A medium sized banana counts as two servings of fruit.

While it may not seem like much, how about a few pieces of fresh spinach or Boston lettuce on your next roast beef sandwich? It adds crunch, and also a half of a serving of vegetables.

Do you like spaghetti?

Why not try cooking some carrots until they are really soft, then blending them in with your spaghetti sauce? Sauteing onions in a little olive oil also adds vegetables to your sauce-and helps reduce your risk of chronic disease.

How about soup?

One way I get my son to eat vegetables is to cook LOTS of vegetables (carrots, broccoli, onions, potatoes) in broth, then blending the entire mixture and serving it in a bowl. Using frozen vegetables reducing the cooking time, if you are in a rush.

If you want to add fruits, as well as bone building calcium, how about fruit smoothies?

You can mix frozen berries (or unfrozen bananas) with low fat vanilla yogurt and there you have it! A snack that's good for your heart, your bones, and most importantly, your taste buds.

While I don't recommend drinking juices (fruit sugar is the same as table sugar, as far as calories go; "natural" doesn't really mean healthier), 4-6 ounces a day is the maximum I tell anyone to drink. So if you need ONE more serving, go ahead, have a small glass of orange juice (or whatever juice you like).

Hopefully these suggestions are helpful for you. One of my newsletters, has a wonderful, colorful handout entitled "Eat From The Rainbow." When in doubt, think about the rainbow, and see if you can find one fruit and/or vegetable from each color, and add it to your diet.

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