By Mary Sikora-Petersen, MSE, RD, CDE, Dietitian and Diabetes Educator for Howard Young Health Care in Woodruff and Eagle River
National Nutrition Month is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Here is some information and tips on how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your daily diet
What are the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables?
- Fruits and vegetable are high in fiber. Eating a high fiber diet may help lower blood cholesterol, promote healthy bowel function, and may prevent colon cancer.
- Fruits and vegetables are low in fat. Eating a low fat diet may reduce your risk of heart disease and help control weight.
- Fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid.
- Fruits and vegetables contain substances called phytochemicals. These are natural chemicals that are found in plants that may help reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease.
How many fruits and vegetables should I eat?
According to the USDA dietary guidelines we should eat at least two to four servings of fruit and three to five servings of vegetables per day. One fruit serving is: one medium piece of fruit, ½ cup cut-up fruit, ¾ cup fruit juice, or ¼ cup dried fruit. One vegetable serving is ½ cup raw or cooked vegetables or, one cup raw leafy vegetables such as leaf lettuce or spinach.
How can I get enough fruits and vegetables?
With a little planning it’s quite easy to eat the recommended five servings per day. Here is an example of how you can fit five servings into your daily meals:
- Breakfast: ½ cup berries on your cereal and a ½ cup dish of cut up melon.
- Lunch: ½ cup cut up raw vegetables along with your sandwich.
- Dinner: 1 cup of salad and ½ cup cooked vegetables.
Which fruits and vegetables are best?
Different fruits and vegetables are high in different nutrients. In general, the darker vegetables and deeper colored fruits are highest in nutrients. For example, dark green leafy vegetables are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folic acid. Orange fruits such as oranges and cantaloupes are high in vitamin C and potassium. Since fruits and vegetable vary in their nutrients depending on color, its best to choose a variety of colors.
The fruits and vegetables that are highest in fiber include dried beans and those that have edible seeds or skins such as strawberries, apples or pears. Fruit juices have little or no fiber so it’s best to choose whole fruits rather than juice.
Choose fruits and vegetables in any form including fresh, frozen, canned (in juice or light syrup) and dried. All forms provide fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. However, canned fruit is usually skinned and therefore is lower in fiber. It’s best to
choose canned vegetables that have no salt added.
In addition to health benefits they provide, fruits and vegetables add flavor and variety to your diet. So just remember to fill your cart with a rainbow of colors whenever you are in the produce section at the grocery store.