Eat More Fruits & Vegetable for Longer, Healthier Life
You want to eat better. I know, because all of my patients want to eat better. They know they should eat less: prepared food, processed food, dairy, meat, sugar, refined grains – less of the Standard American Diet.
Twenty years of helping patients has taught me that changing someone’s diet by taking food away always fails. So, the first step I recommend for healthier eating is for you to eat more.
Specifically, you need to eat more fruits and vegetables, 7-10 servings per day. Research confirms the enormous benefits of eating a plant-centric diet. People who eat the most fruits and vegetables:
- Live longer
- Reduce their risk of common chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes
- Have greater emotional well-being
- Reduce their risk of most types of cancer
- Maintain healthier weights
- Lower their blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol
How do you get to ten servings per day? Ten servings – a serving is one piece of fruit, one cup of juice, or six ounces of vegetables – of fruits and vegetables a day are pretty easy if you plan your meals around them.
- Breakfast: two fruits
- Mid-morning snack: one serving of vegetables
- Lunch: three vegetables
- Afternoon snack: one fruit
- Dinner: three vegetables
I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking at this list and thinking, “If I eat ten servings of fruits and vegetables, I can never eat meatloaf for dinner or macaroni and cheese for lunch.” Not true! You’ll still eat meat and potatoes, but you’ll eat smaller portions. The fruits and vegetables will keep you filled up, not hungry, and you’ll still have the taste of the foods you love.
You’ll also get new favorites from the vegetables you start eating. I have eleven specific recommendations on how to turn your taste buds around and make adding vegetables to your diet not just painless, but delicious.
- Go local. For best flavor, buy local, seasonal veggies. Try farmers’ markets, where you’ll find good prices on just-picked produce. When possible, choose organic vegetables, especially potatoes, peppers, and leafy greens (the types of supermarket produce most likely to be loaded with dangerous pesticides).
- Buy smart. Here’s a simple solution to a common problem – vegetables spoil fast – for those new to eating them. Buy more root vegetables: carrots, beets, turnips, potatoes, and the like. Our ancestors stored root vegetables in cool, underground cellars where they lasted for months. Root veggies last in your pantry, too. (But eating ten servings a day won’t leave them lying around.)
- Cook simply. Try roasting. Use vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and a few herbs. (But minimize the salt to preserve the vegetables’ flavor.) My patient Arthur, who is not skilled in the kitchen, loves roasting. “I pop a pan of little potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots, or whatever’s in my fridge into the oven. Then I set the timer so I know when to stir them up a little, and before I know it, they’re done,” he explained. “And the best part is, they taste great!”
- Make extra. If cleaning and chopping vegetables takes too much time, I suggest doubling recipes and saving the leftovers, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Slow cookers also save time because they cook while you’re way. Make an 8-serving recipe, put half in the fridge, half in the freezer, and eat well for days!
- Mix it up. Make a pot of vegetable soup, and then purée it with your favorite seasonings. When my children were small, I found this was the best way to get them to eat veggies and like them. Since then, countless patients have given me positive feedback on this tip. The puréed vegetables create a nutritious, delicious way to begin a meal. If you add a slice of whole-grain bread and a small portion of chicken or fish, you have a great light supper.
- Cook it right. Do you hate vegetables because you’ve only eaten them canned or boiled? Try this simple experiment at home: Taste both canned green beans and fresh green beans that have been sautéed in olive oil with mushrooms and chopped onions or garlic. I know you’ll prefer the fresh beans. How vegetables are prepared makes all the difference.
- Get creative. Cook new vegetable recipes. Cookbooks, cooking shows, and food blogs are bursting with ideas. Your community center may have cooking classes, too. Meet people with similar interests and share ideas while learning new ways to prepare veggies.
- Go raw. Since supermarkets stock trimmed vegetables to be eaten raw, why not try a few? You’ll find that you like the true, raw flavor of some vegetables the best. Use a touch of flavored olive oil or vinaigrette as a dip.
- Hide it. Sneak veggies into favorites like casseroles or burgers. Grate or finely chop your veggies – carrots, zucchini, and cauliflower florets, for example – and mix them in while cooking. The mild vegetable flavors blend well with meat, dairy, and grain, and you get all the health benefits of eating the vegetable.
- Juice it. When you juice instead of cook, you get nutrients not compromised by heat. These nutrients are more bioavailable because your body isn’t fighting to digets fiber. And juicing non-starchy vegetables prevents blood sugar and insulin spikes. I start every day with juice from kale, spinach, celery, lemon, apple carrot, and avocado. I recommend a centrifugal juicer.
Popular Juicing Vegetables
- collard greens
- mustard greens
- Swiss chard
- Make it fun. My patient Katie her husband were both prediabetic, so she decided to overhaul their meals to include lots of vegetables. Instead of complaining about spending time cooking, Katie decided to make the kitchen more fun. She put a radio in her kitchen and made meal preparation an event she and her husband Joe share. “We listen to the news when we wash and cut the veggies, or we turn on music and have a glass of wine while cooking,” she explained. “It’s almost like a little party! Now instead of dreading the ‘What are we having for dinner’ question, I look forward to evenings when we figure that out.”