Why do I think fruit and vegetables are so amazing? Well for a start they taste great! There are so many options to choose from with completely different taste and texture combinations from a crisp tart apple to a soft sweet strawberry, from a crunchy crisp bean to a soft squishy tomato. Then we can talk about all the preparation possibilities within many fruit and veg. How many ways can you think of to prepare a tomato or a potato or pumpkin? We will eat more fruit and veg when we recognise and love how they enhance a meal rather than feeling like we have to eat them because they are good for us. Think of your next meal or your last: what did the vegetables mean to you? Were they an after thought? Did you put them in because it's what you're supposed to do? Or did you think about which ones would complement the rest of the meal? Did you imagine their taste and texture working with everything else? Did you start with a vegetable and match the meat (if eaten) and carbohydrate? Were they the star of the meal? When I order in a restaurant I choose my meal with equal importance given to what vegetables are served. I am bitterly disappointed if the vegetables consist of a few steamed carrots and some broccoli plonked in a bowl on the side. Where is the imagination and creativity in that?
So beside their taste and texture, why are fruit and vegetables so amazing? Scientific studies continue to show just how amazing they are. Increasing our fruit and vegetable intake even by a small proportion can decrease the risk of numerous cancers1. They help to control blood pressure2, reduce the risk of heart disease including stroke3 and they really do help you to see. Two pigments found in brightly coloured vegetables are the heroes here so eating plenty of bright green, red and yellow fruits and vegetables can help you to avoid cataracts and other age related eye diseases4. Fruit and vegetables also provide fibre which helps keep our gut healthy and working well.
Now that you are convinced that fruit and vegetables are the heroes of your meal, lets talk about how much we should eat. There is a lot of emphasis on the 5+ a day message and this is definitely what we should be aiming for as a minimum. What does 5+ mean? It means 5 servings of fruit and vegetables combined. You don't have to try and eat 5 pieces of fruit and then 5 servings of vegetables. And how big is a serving? While you are sitting here reading this cup your hand, with fingers together - whatever will fit in your hand is a serving. This equates to approximately an apple, a tomato or 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetables. The great thing with the cupped hand guide is that it works for everyone - the smaller the hand the smaller the portion required. Your child's hand is their portion size. Remember this is a minimum and there is no maximum. The more fruit and vegetables you eat the greater the protective effect.
If 5 servings seems a lot, think about your day and how you can make little changes to add in extras. Breakfast can include some stewed or fresh fruit. Morning and afternoon tea times are a great time to add some fruit. Include some tomato, capsicum, cucumber, carrot and/or sprouts into your lunch time sandwich or have some leftover dinner from the night before. Dinner at my house always includes a huge mound of vegetables. I include grated carrot and courgette in my tomato sauce and meat patties, even my creamy sauced dishes include capsicum, carrot sticks, mushroom and spinach. If I make a roast I cook the meat in water with carrots, potatoes, onions and herbs. When the meat is cooked I blend up the vegetables and liquid - instant delicious gravy! Packet meals won't usually have vegetables in their list of ingredients to add but there is no reason why you can't include extra mushrooms, capsicums, peas, spinach etc.
Tinned, frozen and dried fruit and vegetables can be just as good as fresh especially when the alternative is a limp shriveled carrot in the back of the vege draw! The nutrients are locked in during the processing so these are hugely beneficial. Dried fruit do have a high sugar content so eat them in small quantities. Rinse off tinned foods to remove most of the salty brine.
Find the fruits and vegetables that you love and enjoy and find new ways to include them in your meals. Keep trying the things you don't really like as these will become more familiar to you and may soon get added to your list of likes. For me this was mushrooms, I didn't enjoy their texture so I would chop them up small and hide them in my stirfrys etc but now I have come to really like them and they are a staple on the shopping list.
Remember 5+ a day is a minimum and there is no maximum. While fruits and vegetables are fantastic foods they are not nutritionally complete. Each day and most meals include protein sources(meat, legumes, dairy etc)) and carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta etc) for a healthy diet.
1. World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR, 2007.
2. Appel LJ, Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. DASH Collaborative Research Group. N Engl J Med. 1997; 336:1117–24.
3. He FJ, Nowson CA, Lucas M MacGregor GA. Increased consumption of fruit and vegtables is related to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Hum Hertens. 2007;21:717-28.
4. Cho E, Seddon JM, Rosner B, Willett WC, Hankinson SE. Prospective study of intake of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and carotenoids and risk of age-related maculopathy. Arch Opthalmol. 2004;122:883-92.