High Five to Your Health
Getting five servings a day of fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to prevent cancer, heart disease and stroke. Here's how to achieve this healthy goal.
Nutritional experts recommend that you eat a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Scientific studies suggest that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables helps to prevent some cancers, heart disease and stroke, the diseases that kill most Americans. What makes these foods so powerful? Scientists don't know for certain. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants.
So, what is a serving?
A serving is any of the following:
- A half cup of cooked or one cup of raw vegetables. (A cup-sized serving is about the size of your fist.)
- A medium-sized piece of fruit, like an apple or an orange
- A half cup of canned or frozen fruit
- A quarter cup of dried fruit, like raisins
- A three-quarter cup of juice, or six ounces
OK, I'm ready. What do I do?
Follow these healthy eating guidelines:
Add fruits and vegetables to every meal
Add raisins or bananas to your cereal. Or eat a cantaloupe for breakfast. Don't forget that real fruit juice counts. Drink orange juice, grape juice, apple juice or a vegetable blend like V8. Make sure you eat at least one veggie with lunch and try for two at dinner. If you can't take your vegetables plain, consume them as soups, mixed dishes and salads. Fruit makes a great post-lunch dessert.
Snack on fruits and vegetables.
The options are limitless. Apples, pears, grapes and cherries are easy to haul around. Celery and carrots are classic snacks.
Make small additions to your diet
You don't have to restock your refrigerator and pantry to start eating more fruits and vegetables. If you make a burrito, add a few more onions and tomatoes. If you have a can of vegetable soup, toss in 1/2 cup of frozen peas. Even if you're having ice cream, put strawberries on top. Pizza is a perfect port for broccoli, mushrooms and more. A similar suggestion: Add vegetables to spaghetti sauce.
Use (almost) any form of fruits and vegetables
Canned, frozen, dried or fresh -- they all count. Sorry, but that slice of blueberry pie for dessert doesn't. Here are some other foods that DO NOT qualify as protectors against heart disease, cancer and stroke:
- Fruit jelly
- Fruit-flavored beverages that aren't 100 percent fruit juice
- Fruit-containing cookies
- Banana chips
- Maraschino cherries
- French fries
- Potato chips
- Onion rings
Ignore the myth that it costs more to eat healthy
Fruits and vegetables give you the most nutrition for your money. And if you cut back on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables, you'll save money on your grocery bill.
Nutritional supplements don't equal fruits and vegetables
While vitamins may give you a few protective compounds, they don't come close to the thousands of different beneficial elements found in "real" food.
Help your kids get their "five a day," too
First, the experts say, kids don't dislike vegetables just because they're kids. In countries where vegetables are a natural part of the diet, kids eat lots of vegetables.
Second, if you follow all the tips in this article, your kids will eat more fruits and vegetables because kids tend to eat what parents eat.
For children 2 to 10 years old, serve the vegetables in a nonchalant, relaxed atmosphere. If serving any new food, do so with the child's favorite meal. It's probably not a good idea to force kids to eat a particular food. And don't bribe your child with other foods. ("If you eat your peas, you can have ice cream.") This sends the message that the vegetables must be bad if a reward is needed to eat them!
For older kids, do you best to make fruits and vegetables readily accessible. Don't just keep raw, unwashed carrots in the refrigerator. Instead, keep prepackaged baby carrots, cut up, washed and ready to eat. And realize that most teens won't eat fruits and vegetables to prevent chronic illness -- teens think they're going to live forever. Instead, focus on today's benefits, such as more energy, a better complexion and a healthy weight without the need for dieting.