As a registered dietitian, I constantly find myself giving this advice to clients: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Why? Overall, they’re low in calories, high in fiber and water, and loaded with nutrients. Eating plenty of them daily can help you maintain or lose weight — and ward off various diseases.
They also add so much color and flavor to food that I’m always surprised so many people don’t eat them regularly. How much you need depends on your age, gender and activity level, but in general the five-a-day number is a good rule: two cups of fruits, three cups of vegetables. (To put that in perspective, the average American eats only about 1 1/2 cups of produce.) Find out what counts as a cup here.
If you’re not used to eating so many fruits and vegetables in a day, it can seem overwhelming to think of adding them to your diet. That’s why I usually have clients “walk through” a day of their typical eating and ask them to find room for fruits and vegetables — by adding them to existing meals or swapping other foods for them. Here are some of the ideas they came up with:
- Top your cereal with fruit: If you eat cereal each morning, this is a no-brainer. You can also top your yogurt or peanut butter toast with some sliced bananas, pears or berries.
- Scramble spinach into your eggs: If you’re more of a savory breakfast person, vegetables are a natural add-on. Think of making an omelet, a frittata or a taco for breakfast and adding spinach, tomatoes, peppers or whatever veggies you like.
- Mash avocado onto your toast instead of butter: Avocado is a healthy fat that’s also a great source of fiber. It makes a great toast topper sprinkled with a bit of sea salt.
- Have a smoothie: Blend half a banana, some berries, yogurt, milk or juice together in a blender. You’ll get most of the fruit you need in a day in this one-meal beverage.
- Use this formula for snacks: protein + fruits and vegetables: One easy way to get in more fruits and vegetables is to snack on them. Feel free to pair them with some nuts or nut butter, yogurt, cheese, hummus or some other sort of protein. The combination of fiber in the fruits and vegetables plus the protein and fat is a winning combination for both satiety and nutrition.
- Add veggies to your sandwich: Lettuce and tomatoes are no-brainers, but you can also do slices of cucumber, peppers, onions or even leftover grilled vegetables.
- Prepare them when you get home from the grocery store: A little prep work goes a long way. Many people find that if they cut up vegetables and fruit as soon as they get home from the grocery store, they’re more likely to snack on them when they get hungry. Making fruits and vegetables convenient to eat is probably the No. 1 thing you can do to boost your consumption.
- Eat some vegetable soup: In wintertime salad might not be a staple. Vegetable soup is a great alternative. Make a big pot per week so you have vegetables at the ready. Try this blueprint for creamy (but creamless) vegetable soup.
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables: This is the biggest tip from MyPlate — the government food paradigm that replaced the food pyramid. Simply shifting the proportions of fruits and vegetables, protein and starch can go a long way toward improving your overall health.
- Let fruit satisfy your sweet tooth: Fruit is naturally sweet and makes a lovely dessert on its own or enhanced with some extras (think strawberries dipped in a hint of sour cream and brown sugar, or an apple crisp).