By Karen Buch, RDN, LDN
National Nutrition Month® is the perfect time to shine a light on the power of eating fruits and vegetables. Healthy eating patterns are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancers, overweight and obesity. Particularly, eating patterns that are higher in vegetables and fruits are associated with reduced risk of various chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables supply natural sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that help to maintain or improve health.
How much should you eat?
While exact nutritional needs vary from person to person, ideally fruits and vegetables should make up half of our plate at each meal. Most adults have a target of 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. 1 Yet, research shows just 25 percent of Americans are eating enough.
Opt for variety
Did you know there are literally thousands of different types of fruits and vegetables? Yet, many of us repeatedly purchase a self-narrowed list of produce items with little deviation. Eating a wider assortment of produce can help supply the body with a wider variety of nutrients. Emphasize dark green, red and orange in your selections and choose beans, peas, legumes along with other starchy varieties. Shop for seasonal produce to support local farmers and try inventive new ways to serve it.
Raw produce can be great for snacking, salads, sandwiches, salsas and relishes. Grilling, steaming and roasting can boost flavor and create desired textures in soups, stews and side dishes and entrees. And, look for small ways to add familiar fruits and vegetables to dishes you already like to make. Try experimenting with different colors and shapes. Choosing to shred, slice, dice or mince can impact both visual and textural appeal. Similarly, vary your color choices because we first eat with our eyes. For example, interest heightens when more exotic white, purple and red carrots are served along with more common orange ones.
Registered dietitians frequently recommend the use of spices and herbs to promote healthy food choices and potentially lessen the need for an addition of sodium and fat to add flavor. Why? Taste is one of the most powerful reasons behind why we make our food choices. Interestingly, the simple addition of herbs and spices may effectively boost the appeal—specifically of vegetables—in turn prompting consumers to choose to eat more. Popular flavoring agents to consider for vegetables include garlic, oregano, basil, paprika, chili powder, parsley, chives, red pepper, cilantro, cayenne pepper, thyme, rosemary, ginger, sage, dill, cumin, mint, curry, mustard powder and celery seed. 2
Another popular strategy to maximize flavor is to combine fruits and vegetables. For example, try combining fresh watermelon or mango chunks with diced onions, jalapenos and cilantro to make a sweet and savory salsa.
20 practical ways to add more produce to your day! 3
1. Use vegetables and fruits as pizza toppings. Try broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions. Add a touch of sweetness with sweet potato shreds, pineapple bits or red, orange and yellow bell peppers.
2. Mix up a breakfast smoothie made with low-fat milk, frozen strawberries and a banana.
3. Make a veggie wrap with roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese rolled in a whole-wheat tortilla.
4. Try crunchy vegetables instead of chips with your favorite low-fat salad dressing for dipping.
5. Grill colorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms and onions.
6. Add color to salads with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach leaves or mandarin oranges.
7. Keep cut vegetables handy for mid-afternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or a quick nibble while waiting for dinner. Ready-to-eat favorites: red, orange or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas or radishes.
8. Place colorful fruit where everyone can easily grab something for a snack-on-the-run. Keep a bowl of fresh, just ripe whole fruit in the center of your kitchen or dining table.
9. Get saucy with fruit. Puree apples, berries, peaches or pears in a blender for a thick, sweet sauce on grilled or broiled seafood or poultry, or on pancakes, French toast or waffles.
10. Stuff an omelet with vegetables. Turn any omelet into a hearty meal with broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes or onions with low-fat sharp cheddar cheese.
11. “Sandwich” in fruits and vegetables. Add pizzazz to sandwiches with sliced pineapple, apple, peppers, cucumber and tomato as fillings.
12. Wake up to fruit. Make a habit of adding fruit to your morning oatmeal, ready-to-eat cereal, yogurt or toaster waffle.
13. Top a baked potato with beans and salsa or broccoli and low-fat cheese.
14. Microwave a cup of vegetable soup as a snack or with a sandwich for lunch.
15. Add grated, shredded or chopped vegetables such as zucchini, spinach and carrots to lasagna, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce and rice dishes.
16. Make fruit your dessert: Slice a banana in half roll in a tablespoon of chopped nuts, insert a popsicle stick in one end and freeze or serve warm with a drizzle of melted peanut butter.
17. Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables to steam or stir-fry for a quick side dish.
18. Make your main dish a salad of dark, leafy greens and other colorful vegetables. Add chickpeas or edamame (fresh soybeans) and top with fresh vinaigrette.
19. Fruit on the grill: Make sweet or savory kabobs with pineapple, peaches, and watermelon. Grill on low heat until fruit begins to caramelize and grill marks develop.
20. Dip: Serve whole wheat pita wedges with hummus, baked tortilla chips with salsa, strawberries or apple slices with low-fat yogurt, or graham crackers with almond butter.
National Nutrition Month® is recognized every year in March as a key time to provide consumers with education focused on the importance of making informed choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. In addition, the second Wednesday of March is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, a day to recognize RDNs as indispensable providers of food and nutrition services and acknowledge their strong commitment to helping people enjoy healthier lives.
Key Messages for National Nutrition Month® 2019
- Discover the benefits of a healthy eating style.
- Choose foods and drinks that are good for your health.
- Include a variety of healthful foods from all of the food groups on a regular basis.
- Select healthier options when eating away from home.
- Be mindful of portion sizes. Eat and drink the amount that’s right for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do.
- Keep it simple. Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated.
- Make food safety part of your everyday routine.
- Help to reduce food waste by considering the foods you have on hand before buying more at the store.
- Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
- Consult the nutrition experts. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs.
Share your efforts to educate the public during the month of March, using the hashtags
#NationalNutritionMonth and #PAND. To access the full 2019 NNM toolkit 4, visit https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/national-nutrition-month/national-nutrition-month-celebration-toolkit.
Karen Buch, RDN, LDN is a Central Pennsylvania-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist on a mission to help consumers better understand the connection between food, nutrition and health. As owner of Nutrition Connections LLC, Karen provides a variety of food and nutrition communications consulting services to the food industry nationwide. Connect with her at NutritionConnectionsLLC.com, facebook: Nutrition Connections LLC, instagram:@karenbuch1, twitter: @karenbuch or subscribe to her blog: Food News & Reviews.
- Am J Health Behav.™ 2017;41(1):52-60 Spice and Herb Use with Vegetables:Liking, Frequency, and Self-Efficacy Among US Adults. Nikolaus CJ et al. American Journal of Health Behavior, Volume 41, Number 1, January 2017. Pp. 52-60 (9).