March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to promote healthy eating and exercise habits. With the arrival of spring, March is also a time of renewed energy and life, it’s fitting that we use this month to reevaluate our eating habits and discover what changes we can make to improve our health.
There are many ways in which we can optimize our nutritional choices, such as choosing whole grains over refined carbohydrates, low-fat dairy over full fat, and eating lean meat and poultry over fattier versions. Perhaps the greatest way we can have a positive impact on our overall nutrition is to eat more fruits and vegetables.
It is not always easy to get the recommended daily serving of fruits and vegetables. Sometimes if we are rushed or tired we might not take the time to make a vegetable with dinner. When eating out, it may be difficult to find a dish that includes vegetables, or at least ones that aren’t deep fried or covered in butter. Sometimes we just don’t have them on hand because nothing looked very fresh at the store or the produce we bought went bad before we could eat it. All too often the reason people don’t get enough fruits and vegetables is because they simply ignore them.
There are a countless number of reasons why we should consume fruits and vegetables regularly, but here are five of them to help increase the motivation factor:
1. Most fruits and vegetables are very low in calories and fat and high in fiber, making them an exemplary choice for the person who wants to lose, or even maintain weight. By having fruit and/or vegetables with every meal and for snacks, the stomach feels full not only faster but longer, therefore resulting in reduced overall calorie consumption.
2. Fruits and vegetables provide a wide array of vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to stay healthy. Some of the benefits include an improved immune system, increased energy, reduced inflammation, and maintaining healthy skin and bones. Since different fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of vitamins and minerals, it is best to eat aim for color and variety when picking produce rather than choosing the same ones all the time.
3. Fruits and vegetables contain compounds called phytochemicals (i.e. antioxidants, carotenoids, polyphenols) which have been shown to reduce disease risk such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society suggests that certain phytochemicals may prevent the formation of carcinogens, block their action in the body, or suppress cancer development in cells. Cancer prevention alone is reason enough for me to stock up on produce!
4. The high fiber content of fruits and vegetables can aid digestive problems and contribute toward the prevention of colon cancer. Eating too much unhealthy fat and refined sugars can wreak havoc on the intestinal tract, but incorporating fiber from fruits and vegetables can help keep our tummies happy and regular.
5. Fruits and vegetables have a high water content. The body is comprised mostly of water and needs a lot of it to run efficiently. Fortunately, water intake not only comes from what we drink but also from what we eat. Foods high in water content such as fruits and vegetables help contribute to keeping our bodies well hydrated and functioning optimally.
Fortunately, getting more fruits and vegetables everyday does not have to be as difficult as it seems. A few minutes spent cutting up vegetables and putting them in re-sealable bags will make it easy to snack on them throughout the week. Adding vegetables or vegetable puree to casseroles, omelets, pasta, soup, and other dishes will add fiber and nutrients to dinner. Sliced veggies can turn an ordinary sandwich into a more nutritious, more filling lunch. Adding fruit to the side of any meal or snack adds valuable vitamins and minerals. And, as nature’s candy, fruit makes for excellent dessert!
This month, make a vow to pay more attention to the green side of your plate. Try a new fruit or vegetable. Make vegetables a larger proportion of your meals. Increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables you consume in a day. See how colorful you can make your plate. Your body will thank you for years to come!