Eating 5 a Day: Not Enough

After a long weekend of watching kids eat the majority of their calories coming from refined carbs and meat-derived proteins, I realized a simple lesson in “5-a-day” goes a long way.  But what about you?  Are you eating at least “5-a-day?”  Read on to learn how to maximize your fruit and veggie intake.

Is the majority of your diet full of carbs coming in the form of juice, caloric beverages, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, grains and processed foods?  Is the other half of your diet a big mess of chicken, deli or grilled meat, cans of tuna, beans, and protein powder?  Even if you do eat fruits and veggies (two florets of broccoli here, an apple there, etc) are you actually getting in the bare minimum?

Bare minimum: 5 a day Better: 5-9 a day Best: 9-13 a day
If you think you’re pretty cool because you eat five servings of fruits and veggies (a combination thereof) per day as depicted in the graphic above, think again.  Kudos to you, you’re basically eating the daily bare minimum that human beings require to function with a decent quality of life. A body of evidence (American Medical, Heart, Cancer, USDA – MyPyramid and ChooseMyPlate.gov, Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate, etc) show that benefits start accumulating once you exceed five servings per day. Those who eat more than nine servings will have the greatest reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, and some types of cancers.

What is one serving?

One serving = 1 cup raw OR ½ cup cooked (this ½ cup does not include butters, sauces, and other artifact).  1 fruit without the peel (that fits into your palm) is considered one serving.

What are the health benefits?

Benefits include an increased amount of fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy compounds in its natural form and antioxidants (compounds that help fight harmful bugs, bacteria, and species that like to destroy our immune systems).

Increased amounts of fruit and veggie intake is an excellent way to maintain and/or control weight since more calories are coming from nutrient-dense foods versus high-fat and high-sugary foods.

Best tip to choose fruits and veggies

Think bright colors (orange and red) and dark pigments (green leafy veggies).  When you think about fruits and veggies in this way, it is more likely that you will choose a spinach lettuce base over iceberg and a sweet (orange) potato over a white one.  The deeper the pigment, the more nutrient value a fruit or vegetable will contain (e.g., a faded light yellow pepper will have less nutrients from sitting on the shelf for days versus a deep orange pepper, which is fresh off the farm).

How can I apply all of this to my day?

Here are some ideas to add fruits and veggies throughout the day.

Morning:

  • Add 1 small banana to oatmeal
  • Add ½ cup chopped cooked kale or spinach to your omelet

Lunch:

  • Add 1 cup of mixed vegetables to your salad
  • Add ½ cup cooked veggies to your chicken & rice dish
  • Add 1 cup carrots/celery to your sandwich

Dinner:

  • Add ½ cup cooked asparagus and/or broccoli to the plate
  • Add a scoop of mashed sweet potato to your meal

Snack:

  • Eat a piece of fruit or a fruit cup
  • Dip 1 cup raw veggies into hummus or ranch
  • Mix 1 cup fruit in yogurt or cottage cheese

Print out this fruit and veggie tally card, leave it at your desk, and check off as the day progresses.

Summary

Eat five servings of (a combination of) fruits and vegetables per day.  That’s the minimum.  Better if you eat up to nine servings.  Optimal if you are eating between 9-13 servings.  Read above to find out what one serving equals, why you should have these “crops of the earth,” and how you can plan to get in a hefty load of roughage!

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