Posted on Feb 12, 2014 by Samantha Lancaster
New year, new you? We’ve got some great tips for adding healthy fruit and vegetables into your regular diet.
“Eat your fruits and vegetables.” It’s a mantra ingrained into our psyches and yet, for many of us, it remains little more than an oft repeated phrase with little bearing on our everyday reality. Ask even the most ardent hater of anything green and healthy and it’s likely they’ll concede to the theory, if not the practice. So why are we so resistant to the idea of eating our way to health?
The statistics don’t lie. Science has proved fairly conclusively that diets rich in fruit and vegetables are far less likely to lead to disease and bad health; yet cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes remain the world’s biggest killers in developed nations, and worldwide consumption of fruits and vegetables stands at only 20 to 50 percent of the recommended daily minimum, according to the World Health Organisation.
Perhaps it’s a little more complicated. Perhaps we’re just feeling collectively bamboozled by all the well-intentioned information thrown at us, and we’re no longer hearing the message and connecting the dots. Perhaps the preachy element has us secretly rebelling, or fear of failure and an inability to make the grade on a permanent basis is hampering our good intentions.
Incorporating a healthy balance of fruit and vegetables into our lifestyle needn’t be such hard work, however. There are plenty of ways to get the requisite fix without resorting to a big change of routine or diet. No one even has to know. By following a few of these top tips, you’ll see how easy it is to bring a little goodness back into your life, the easy way.
1. Visualise your daily allowance with a handy online tool
One of the biggest barriers for many people is a simple inability to equate the ‘on paper’ theory with exactly what and how much of the healthy stuff we should put on our plate each day. Let’s face it, if you’re just not that into your greens, five-a-day may as well be five hundred, and with so much confusion over what constitutes one portion, it’s tempting to skip the finer details and go with what we enjoy, which, if we’re honest, may be a little lacking.
Using an online nutritional tool from a recognised healthy authority such as the one found on the website for the U.S. Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not only a fast and easy way to get an accurate measurement of exactly how much to consume each day, based on age, gender and level of physical activity, but also provides a handy visual list of the kinds of fruit and vegetables we should be eating – and crucially in what amounts – to ensure we reach that goal.
The results may surprise – a snack container of applesauce contains half a cup’s worth of the RDA for women aged between 30 and 40 who exercise less than 30 minutes per day, for instance. Consume just one banana, grapefruit or pear on top of this, and you’ll be good to go for the day, fruit-wise. When you can actually see what constitutes a cup’s worth, getting your daily quota becomes a lot easier to achieve, and having an interactive nutritional tool is far more motivating than dietary guesswork.
It may be the buzzword of the moment, but a daily serving of fresh juice containing a mix of otherwise unpalatable vegetables, mixed with sweeter fruits, is a fantastic way to get your most of your daily allowance in one hit (and ideal for kids too). There’s a downside of course: most juicers leave out the pulp and skin, which contain nutrients and all-important fibre – essential for bowel health – so it’s best to see juices as a compliment to a balanced diet rather than an outright replacement. But for vegetable-phobes, it’s hard to go wrong with a juice containing apples, oranges and red berries mixed with carrots and leafy greens such as spinach and kale.
While it’s entirely possible to get your daily fix at a juice bar, the costs can mount up over time and so you may want to consider investing in a home juicing machine, or even a hand blender. Low sodium, store purchased juices are an alternative, but juice quickly loses its nutritional potency once extracted and is best drunk immediately.
Like it’s colder counterpart, soup is an ideal way to pack a nutritious, vegetable-rich punch because it’s so easy to mask the less palatable elements with other flavours. Soup makes for a tasty lunchtime meal and there are an increasing number of dedicated soup stores offering a range of healthy and innovative combinations. Like juicing, there’s a potential downside to relying on soup for a nutritional injection: not all soups are created equal. Many vegetable soups, for instance, mainly contain lots of starchy root vegetables or overcooked greens that have lost much of their vitamin-rich potency.
It’s important not to overcook vegetables, particularly leafy greens such as spinach, which should be added right at the end and cooked through lightly to preserve goodness. Blending soup in a liquidizer is a great way to make vegetables disappear. Soup can also be made in batches at the beginning of the week and stored for a few days in the fridge, to be taken to work or school.
For an easy and deliciously satisfying recipe that can be adapted to taste, try frying two cups of chopped onion, celery, leek, sweet potato, butternut squash and red bell pepper for 15 minutes over a medium-low heat, adding half a teaspoon of mixed, dried herbs and then two cups of vegetable or chicken stock. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for further 15 minutes, then add two cups of spinach and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Turn off heat and leave to cool for 15 minutes, then liquidize with an optional tablespoon of crème fraiche and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Mash up your meal
Pureeing vegetables, or mashing, needn’t just be for toddlers. It’s a great way to enjoy a number of vegetables in one go without feeling overwhelmed, and it’s ideal for disguising those less appealing options. Try steaming a mix of chopped sweet and regular potatoes for around 12 minutes, then sprinkle over a cup of so of broccoli and cauliflower florets, replace lid and continue steaming for a further 5 minutes or so until just cooked through. Remove from heat and discard water from pan. Turn off heat.
Add a little olive oil or butter to the pan, a splash of milk and nutmeg and warm through. Add the steamed veg and mash till smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and a grated cheddar or parmesan if desired, and you have a delicious and nutritious accompaniment to grilled fish and meat that can be cooled and shaped to make patties, then fried in a very lightly oiled non-stick pan too – kids will love them.
5. Save on costs – frozen fruit counts too!
Let’s face it: fresh fruit can be expensive. Choosing fruit that’s in season will lower costs, but augmenting this fresh fruit intake with frozen fruits is another great tip for boosting your daily intake. There’s a common misconception that freezing destroys all the goodness in fruits. Whilst there may be evidence of some minor losses, studies have shown there’s still a whole bunch of highly beneficial nutrients to be found in frozen fruits, particularly antioxidant-rich red skinned fruits such as raspberries and blueberries that are flash frozen close to harvest.
Buying frozen fruits and eating them soon after thawing is an economical way to boost your daily quota and ensures you have access to healthy – and often prohibitively expensive – fruits right through the year. Try adding a handful of frozen fruits to a homemade juice or smoothie, or take a few out of the freezer when you wake to sprinkle over your breakfast cereal. Frozen fruits also taste great with a dollop of ice cream or low fat yoghurt for dessert.