Research has long proven—and continues to prove—that fruits and vegetables are staples in a healthy diet. It’s not just for weight loss, but also for avoiding disease and increasing energy. The benefits of fruits and vegetables are no secret, but it’s surprisingly hard to work them into a day’s meals, especially for people who don’t cook regularly. But it’s easier than many would have you believe.
Most health departments recommend at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, but the average people eats only three. One problem is that many people do not know what a “portion” is, and either eat too much or too little. Generally, a serving is about half a cup; some foods such as leafy greens are measured in full cups. So in a typical vegetable soup, you’re actually getting a large chunk of your recommended dose.
Fruits and vegetables do not have to be raw—most of them are just as good dried, canned, and frozen, as long as there aren’t too many preservatives. Tomato sauce, for example, is a great way to work fiber, vitamin A, and calcium into your diet. If you opt for non-fresh produce, however, take time to read the ingredient list. Many are high in salt, sugar, and sodium, so choose brands that are labeled otherwise.
Many people dismiss fruit juice as a sugar-loaded drink, but not all of them are. Look for juices that are made from real fruit and contain no preservatives and added sugar. These are usually clearly marked, and their ingredient lists consist of fruit juice alone. Fruit juices can account for part of your recommended servings, but not all: they may contain all the nutrients, but they don’t give you as much of the fiber.
Beans and lentils are excellent for filling you up while adding to your daily veggie fix. They can easily replace meat in soups, sandwiches and salads, and are just as satisfying (if not more). Kidney beans, baked beans, and chickpeas all have excellent nutritional qualities. A half-cup portion gives you a lot of volume, so it’s also a great way to cut down on calories.
What’s more important, however, is keeping things in balance. It’s not enough to get your five portions; you also want to make sure you’re getting them from different sources. This allows you to get equal doses of other nutrients that can only be found in certain foods. There’s a lot of variety out there—take advantage of your options and you just might find a new healthy favorite!