Nine out of 10 Americans are trying – we emphasize trying, not doing – to munch more slimming, health-promoting, nutrient-packed produce. But a recent study reveals that we’re actually backsliding, with fruit and vegetable consumption down 7 percent compared with five years ago. That’s a diet disaster that could widen your waistline and raise your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, impotence, wrinkles and some cancers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that most adults get 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of veggies daily. We recommend 2 to 3 daily servings of fruit and 6 to 7 of veggies. But according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of 373,580 people, 76 percent of Americans skimp on fruit, and a whopping 87 percent miss that low vegetable mark. Most got just one serving of fruit and about 1½ servings of veggies a day.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to close the produce gap – doubling your daily intake deliciously without emptying your wallet or spending time hunched over a cutting board. Our six super-simple solutions:
1. Buy your chips in the produce aisle
Whether you’re stocking up for March Madness, hosting a “Downton Abbey” viewing party or just love the crunch of a crisp chip with a soup or sandwich, go for pre-sliced carrots, zucchini and fresh peppers instead of a bag of potato chips, corn chips or commercial “veggie” chips. A handful of pre-sliced veggies equals one serving, with less calories, fat and sodium, and way more fiber, vitamins, minerals and health-protecting phytochemicals.
2. Stock up on frozen produce Plain, frozen vegetables – without added salt or sauces – and fruit – without added sugars or syrups – in your freezer can turn the busiest weeknight dinner into a produce feast. Steam or microwave the frozen veggies. Frozen raspberries and mango chunks are delicious together in a cool, refreshing fruit salad. You can toss frozen berries over a green salad or whirl in your food processor with a splash of nonfat milk or dairy alternative for a super-healthy, fruity “ice cream.”
3. Keep produce in the pantry Keeping canned produce on hand could help you eat 30 percent more fruit and 21 percent more vegetables, according to a recent University of California-Davis study. Look for brands packed in cans free of BPA, a chemical found in food-can linings that may increase risk for obesity, heart disease and reproductive problems. Check the website of our friends at the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) to find out what brands are BPA-free.
4. Double the veggies when you eat out
Even though Americans spend 42 percent of their food budgets on meals outside the home, most get just 10 percent of vegetables and 2 percent of fruit at restaurants.
Easy fixes: Ask for twice as much lettuce and tomato on your next deli sandwich, order a veggie instead of fries, and start your meal with a salad (ask for vinegar and olive oil on the side) instead of soup or the breadbasket. In fact, if you frequent a restaurant more than once a month, ask for cut up veggies instead of bread – most will accommodate you and serve you that on future visits. Tip well if that happens. At breakfast, ask for sliced tomatoes instead of hash browns.
5. Tote munchable produce Did you know that 82 percent of the vegetables and 90 percent of the fruit you eat come from your fridge? Up that percentage by tossing baby carrots and an apple or orange into a zipper-lock bag every morning along with a paper napkin; carry in your purse, briefcase or backpack for a quick snack. You’ve just added two produce servings a day.
6. Cook extra tonight Steam an extra serving or two of garlic-spiced sweet peas, broccoli or grilled asparagus spears. Tomorrow, heat and serve over brown rice or red beans, or sprinkle with a little olive oil and lemon as a cold side dish. What could be easier?
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Buffalo native Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.