September is Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Month

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Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.41.16 PMBy Nina Radcliff, MD  

In addition to being delicious, fruit and veggies are certainly nutritious.  In fact, the National Fruit and Vegetable Program launched a public health initiative, Fruits & Veggies – More Matters. Their goal was to help inform everyone that eating fruits and veggies can improve your health and reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and macular degeneration.

I want to help turn-up the volume on More Matters as research shows that most American adults and children are not eating enough in our daily diets. Fruits and vegetables are powerhouses when it comes to essential vitamins and nutrients, as well as fiber and antioxidants.

Along with an array of varieties, colors, textures, and tastes – the vast majority of fruit and veggies do not contain fat or cholesterol. As a result, they are a healthy alternative to salty, fatty, sugary, and processed foods and can help maintain or reach a healthy weight. And as our nation continues to battle obesity and its associated diseases, experts are advocating for ways to increase our intake of fruit and vegetables. There is no question that they are a powerful foundation for our health.

It is recommended that adults consume 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of veggies every day. But only 13 percent of Americans eat this amount of fruit each day and only 9 percent eat enough veggies! How are you doing? Let’s take a look at how we can achieve these goals and take a step towards better health.   

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About Fitting More Fruit and Veggies On Our Plate:

Break the fast.  Our first meal of the day is considered the most important. Eating a balanced breakfast has been shown to improve mental sharpness and heart health as well as stave off extra weight and decrease our risk for diabetes. And, too, it provides a great opportunity to incorporate fruit and veggies. Consider naturally sweetening our oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, and cereals with bananas, berries, or apples instead of sugar, or drinking 100% fruit juice. Or try to squeeze in a serving of veggies by sautéing tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, or onions and serving alongside or on top of eggs, toast, or a bagel.

Substitute cruciferous veggies as dipping agents. Chips are crispy, crunchy, and oh so yummy. Unfortunately they are also high in calories, fat, and salt. The next time we crave for a bag of chips, instead, consider chomping on broccoli or cauliflower stalks, or celery or cucumbers. These alternatives provide our mouths with similar satisfying sensations of crispiness and crunchiness. And, the stalks actually contain more calcium, vitamin C, and fiber than their flowery bulbs. These crispy veggies are also great (and guilt-free) for dipping into salsa, hummus, or other sauces.

Maximize on Snack Time Reaching for fruit or veggies when it’s time to snack, makes good sense. In addition to providing a boost of vitamins and nutrients in between meals, they are rich in fiber. Fiber provides a feeling of satiety, or fullness, that can help decrease calorie consumption. And proper planning is the key to success. When at the grocery store or market, make sure to pick up plenty of fruit to put on the countertop and inside the refrigerator. Don’t be afraid to try something new or out of the ordinary to keep things exciting and interesting; variety is as important as quantity because it provides our body the range of nutrients it needs.  And, dried or (unsweetened) canned fruit are easy to carry and store, making them great options to put inside our purse, backpack, bag, or car.

Baking substitutions There is a saying that “baking is love” and, too, many of us love to eat baked items. The good news is that we can sneak in fruit to substitute for butter and sugar, making them healthier, while still maintaining the great taste. Consider using applesauce or bananas for sugar or oil, mashed avocado or bananas for butter, cacao nibs for chocolate chips, and rinsed, drained, and pureed black beans (a legume) for flour.

Eat a salad a day Salads provide a great bang for your buck when it comes to meeting our fruit and veggie requirements. And the options are only limited by our imagination. In other words, almost anything goes—from beats to avocadoes to apples to radish to mandarin oranges. Aim for color, like the spectrum of a rainbow.

Consuming “more” plant foods can also be kind to our budget, especially when we choose seasonal produce, buy locally, or grow them on our own. And, fruit and veggies have also been shown to be good for our environment. 

There are so many great reasons to fill our plates and tummies with fruit and vegetables. Diets that are rich in these items have been shown to help maintain a healthy weight, decrease the incidence of top killers–heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes—as well as digestive issues, and eye problems. Food is fuel. Let’s work towards providing our bodies with “more” of the best fuel possible. More matters.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.