Ninety percent of U.S. adults do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. How can you ensure you do not fall into this category?
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If you do not eat at least some form of fruit or vegetable with every meal, you are probably one of the over 90 percent of American adults who do not get enough fruits or vegetables in their daily diets—and could be putting themselves at a higher risk of disease, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Seven of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States are from chronic diseases,” a CDC press release stated. “Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables daily can help reduce the risk of many leading causes of illness and death, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity.”
The organization recommends that “adults eat at least 1 1/2 to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups per day of vegetables as part of a healthy eating pattern,” yet said very few are doing it.
“…in 2015, just 9 percent of adults met the intake recommendations for vegetables, ranging from 6 percent in West Virginia to 12 percent in Alaska. Only 12 percent of adults met the recommendations for fruit, ranging from 7 percent in West Virginia to 16 percent in Washington, D.C.”
Fitting in at least one and a half cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables a day does not seem as though it should be difficult to do. For the average American, this generally means a serving of vegetables per meal and some sort of fruit with breakfast and then later as a snack during the day. Yet it does take effort.
So what can you do to make sure to always include fruits and vegetables in your daily diet?
Make healthy eating a priority: People make time for what is important to them. The same goes for eating. When your desire to be healthy long-term overcomes your desire to grab whatever is immediately available, you will naturally eat more healthfully.
Prepare in advance: Find ways to prioritize healthy foods. The CDC recommends that “families can save time and money by chopping extra fruit or vegetables at one time and freezing the extra or choosing frozen or canned fruits and vegetables at the store.”
“Hide” your fruits and veggies: Add vegetables and fruit to recipes that do not originally call for them. Making macaroni and cheese? Throw in a handful of sauteed spinach or fresh tomatoes. Spaghetti? Add a cup of chopped red peppers, broccoli and onions. Meatloaf? Shredded zucchini, carrots and mushrooms add nice flavor to the dish. If you are boiling chicken noodle soup on the stove, use the opportunity to throw in some pre-chopped butternut squash or sweet potato pieces.
Incorporate one piece of fruit into your breakfast: Studies have shown that as the day drags on, it becomes more difficult to force ourselves to eat as healthfully. By committing to eating at least one fruit in the morning, you can draw on your body’s natural willpower and not forget that all-important food group.
If breakfast is not a good time for you, however, commit to doing it at a particular time during the day. While there are many suggestions out there about the best time of day to eat fruit, consuming some sort of fruit is better than eating none at all.
Use precut produce: Even though they are slightly more expensive, precut vegetables are an easy way to initially incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
One way to get into a rhythm is to opt for convenience. Buy a pre-plated tray of carrots, celery, cucumbers and cauliflower. Or try pre-chopped romaine lettuce to use for a salad. For fruit, many stores offer pre-chopped mangoes, pineapples and cantaloupe that you can easily munch on at your desk during the workday or while on the go.
Eventually, as you make healthy food preparation part of your routine, you can save money by cutting up your own produce.
Make a big salad to last for three days: Pulling out the cutting board every night and chopping vegetables for the next day is not the most enjoyable activity, but you can save yourself time by preparing a larger salad that lasts a few days.
Spinach is a great option as it is usually available prewashed and does not need to be chopped. Toss two or three handfuls of cherry tomatoes (that also do not need to be cut), a few cups of shredded carrots or broccoli slaw, and you will be set for a few days. This can then be served with any kind of protein, such as chicken, tuna, nuts or even some sort of canned beans such as chickpeas.
While these tips are no means end-all, be-all solutions, they can help you get started. For more on how to eat right even when money is tight, read “Nine Ways to Eat Healthfully in an Economic Downturn.”