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Healthier Eating Made Easy: Eat a Rainbow

September 11, 2012

Fill Half Your Plate with Fruits and Vegetables

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, more matters. That's the idea behind the campaign to get people to eat more fresh produce. September is Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month, a good time to try to increase the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

"Fruits and vegetables are packed with the nutrients you need to stay healthy," said Maggie Villagomez, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital. "They can also help to lower the risk for diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease."

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients that the body needs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those nutrients should come primarily from whole foods rather than supplements.

The CDC's "Fruits and Veggies - More Matters" campaign replaced the "5 a day" campaign because most adults need more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, Villagomez said.

"Adults need eight or more produce servings daily; an average adult consuming 2,000 calories should aim for 4 cups of fruits and vegetables a day" she added. "The focus now is on filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal, rather than weighing or measuring food. It's a much more practical way to make sure you are eating enough produce."

Managing Your Weight

Eating more fruits and vegetables can also help you keep your weight under control. Being overweight or obese raises your risk for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

"About two-thirds of Americans are overweight," Villagomez said. "Fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight because they are low in fat and calories but big on flavor. They help you feel full and satisfied without adding a lot of calories."

She said that adding a wide variety of fruits and vegetables can keep mealtime interesting while giving your body a full range of nutrients.

"Try to add more color to your plate," Villagomez said. "Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients, so eating a rainbow of colors ensures that you are getting all the nutrients you need."

More Matters

"The best way to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet is to add a few to every meal, including snacks," Villagomez said. "You can also incorporate them into your recipes."

She suggested adding chopped or shredded vegetables to meatloaf, lasagna, and casseroles. Pureed vegetables can be added to soups or stews to thicken them rather than using flour or cornstarch, she said.

"Smoothies are a great way to add fruit to your diet, and kids love them," she said. "You can keep bags of fruit in the freezer for a fast and easy treat. Just put it in a blender with some low fat milk or yogurt and it makes a great breakfast drink or snack."

She said pre-cut bags of fruits and vegetables can also save time, making it easier for busy cooks to add more produce to the menu. While they do cost a bit more, they reduce the amount of time spent cleaning, chopping, peeling, and cutting.

"If you have fruits and vegetables already prepared, it also makes it more convenient to snack on them," Villagomez added. "You can just grab some carrots or apple slices and go. The easier you make it to eat fruits and vegetables, the more likely you are to add them to your diet."

For more information about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, tips for eating more produce, and a tool to calculate the number of servings your body needs, visit www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov.

Washington Hospital Offers Nutrition Counseling

Washington Hospital's Outpatient Nutrition Counseling program is available by appointment to provide nutrition counseling for individuals with specific medical needs as well as those who wish to maintain optimal health.

To learn more about the services that are offered, please call (510) 745-6542 or visit our website: www.whhs.com/nutrition

Top 10 Ways to Get Kids Involved

The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers these ideas to get kids interested and excited about eating more fruits and vegetables:

10. Mean Green Cleaning Machine. Let them wash fruits and vegetables when preparing for cooking or eating.

9. Pick A Peck! When shopping, let them select a new fruit or vegetable to try... or several!

8. Make It Snappy! Let them snap the green beans, snap peas, or break the flowerets from the broccoli or cauliflower.

7. I Spy. Play "I Spy" in the produce section when grocery shopping.

6. Tear It Up! Let them tear the lettuce for salads and sandwiches.

5. Measure Up! Let them measure the frozen vegetables before cooking them.

4. Peel & Slice. Older children can peel and slice carrots, cucumbers, potatoes... the list goes on!

3. Stir & Spice. Make applesauce from fresh apples. Let them help stir and add the cinnamon.

2. A Sprinkle A Day... Let them sprinkle herbs or other seasonings onto vegetables.

1. Monster Mash! Pull out the potato masher!

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