Fruits and Vegetables
by Suzanne Girard-Eberle, MS, RD
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables doesn't guarantee that you'll live forever or set a new PR in every race, but at least they'll help you give it your best shot. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, folate, potassium, phytonutrients (natural plant chemicals that appear to have disease-fighting properties) and anti-aging antioxidants, such as vitamin C. Naturally low in calories, they provide these health-enhancing nutrients with little danger of adding unwanted pounds. Plus--they taste good!
Unless you've been living on another planet the last several years, this is not breaking news. You're well aware that researchers have amassed a ton of data on the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, mind-boggling as it may seem, scientists and health experts do agree on one thing: those people who eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily are the healthiest. No matter what health parameters are studied or what risks for disease assessed, the fruit and vegetable eaters come out ahead of the pack--most often, way ahead. Unbelievably, more than 75% of Americans still fail to eat the minimum recommended five servings each day of fruits and vegetables!
The bottom line: eating some fruits and vegetables is better than none, and eating more is definitely better than some. Use the following three simple guidelines to boost your daily fruit and veggie intake.
Step One: Eat a "rainbow" of fruits and vegetables every day.
Think color. Fruits and vegetables that are colorful, as in red, orange, deep yellow, green, deep blue and purple, qualify for "superfood" status. You're guaranteed hefty doses of vitamin C, carotenoids and other health-enhancing phytonutrients like anthocyanins, lycopene and lutein. Aim for at least one serving from each "stripe of the rainbow" or color group daily.
Tomatoes, pink grapefruit, red bell peppers, red apples, red pears, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, watermelon, radishes, beets
Winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet corn, cantaloupe, mango, oranges, papaya, apricots, pumpkin, yellow grapefruit, oranges, nectarines, peaches
Broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kiwi fruit, avocado, bell peppers, peas, green apples, green pears
Eggplant, blueberries, blackberries, red/purple cabbage, plums, prunes, figs, raisins, dates
Step Two: Eat the real thing.
Don't waste your time on "pretenders"--juice drinks or beverages made with less than 100% fruit juice, high-calorie fruit smoothies with lots of "extras" and pale green side salads. And don't rationalize that you're fulfilling your quota by eating corn chips, strawberry pop-tarts or carrot cake. Supplements can help fill in the gaps, however, they don't supply fiber or yet-to-be discovered phytonutrients, nor do they satisfy hunger pains like real fruits and vegetables do.
A serving is equal to a medium piece of fruit, 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice, one cup of leafy salad greens, 1/2 cup of chopped (raw), cooked, canned or frozen fruit or vegetables or 1/4 cup of dried fruit. Aim for at least five servings a day. Contrary to public opinion, canned and frozen varieties are just as nutritious and can save time-crunched athletes valuable minutes.
Step Three: Start early in the day.
Until it's a well established-habit, most people will have to work at eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Waiting until dinnertime makes it nearly impossible to accomplish--so start your day with a breakfast that includes a glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice and some fruit and build from there. Here are some other tips.
1. Keep easy-to-grab-and-eat veggies on hand--baby carrots, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes and broccoli spears. To save time, purchase prepackaged varieties (or from the salad bar). Dip in low-fat salad dressing.
2. Keep small packages of dried fruit on hand (desk drawer, in the car, etc.) for healthy snacking. Go beyond raisins--try dried dates, figs, plums, apricots and cherries.
3. Top green salads with fruit: kiwi, mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks or nectarines.
4. Microwave a sweet potato for a quick, filling snack or lunch.
5. Include a mixed green salad or vegetable soup with lunch.
6. When not brown-bagging it--opt for fresh vegetable "wraps," vegetable pizza and veggie-based pasta dishes (without cream sauces).
7. Puree canned or frozen fruit, like berries, peaches or apricots, and keep on hand to spoon over vanilla yogurt, pudding or low-fat ice cream.