Written by: Kathryn Cassellius, MS, RDN, LDN
Ring in the new year by adding more color and nutrients to your diet! An easy way to do this is by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Doing so may improve health and reduce your risk for chronic diseases.
Why are Fruits and Vegetables Important to Health?
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are an excellent source of dietary fiber along with vitamins and minerals. Fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease along with being important for proper bowel function and providing fullness after meals. Fruit and vegetable intake is associated with reduced risk of several chronic conditions.
How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Should You Eat?
Adding fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks adds color, flavor, and texture plus vitamins, minerals and fiber. Studies show that at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduce your risk for disease. An easy rule-of-thumb is to fill up half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. If you have a hard time getting all of your servings at mealtimes, they also make a satisfying snack when consumed along with protein or healthy fat.
Which Fruits and Vegetables are Best?
All of them are! Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables provides your body with different types of nutrients in order to function. The more variety and color you choose, the more types of nutrients your body is getting.
All types of fruits and vegetables provide nutrients, regardless of whether you choose canned, fresh, frozen or dried. If you choose canned, dried, or frozen, look for products with the lowest amount of sodium, saturated fat and added sugar. You can also do this by choosing varieties without added sauces, seasonings or syrups.
Where Should You Shop for Fruits and Vegetables?
Fruits and vegetables can be found in a variety of places, not only in the produce section in the grocery store. The frozen and canned sections are great places to find affordable fruits and vegetables.
Frozen and canned vegetables are picked in season and are preserved at the peak of freshness. When looking in the canned section, look for low sodium options. You can also rinse and drain the liquid to further decrease the sodium content.
Options outside of the grocery store include growing your own in a garden at home, signing up for a boxed produce delivery service or looking at your local Farmers Market for a variety of fresh, in-season produce. Shopping local is often fresher and may be lower cost than the grocery store.
List of Produce Delivery Boxes:
- Produce Box
- Misfits Market
- Hungry Harvest
- Imperfect Foods
List of Local Farmer’s Markets
- Growers Market of Fuquay-Varina
- Apex Farmers Market
- Wake Forest Farmers Market
- Cary Downtown Farmers Market
- North Carolina State Farmers Public Market
- LL Urban Farms
- Durham Farmer’s Market
- To see complete list of farmers markets in the Triangle, click on this link: https://triangleonthecheap.com/farmers-markets/
- Local Community Supported Agriculture is an option to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. For more information and to find one in your area, click on the directory here: https://www.localharvest.org/csa/.
How to Incorporate More Fruits and Vegetables
See below for some ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks.
- Add fruit to muffins, pancakes and waffles. For example, mix a mashed banana into pancake mix for soft and fluffy pancakes.
- Add vegetables such as spinach to savory oatmeal.
- Microwave an egg in a mug with vegetables (e.g. onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, or spinach).
- Spread avocado on whole wheat bread with pumpkin seeds and chopped spinach.
- Pair plain yogurt with berries and low sugar granola.
- Add bananas, raisins, dates or berries to cereal or oatmeal.
- Include a small glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice without added sodium.
- Add vegetables to your smoothie such as kale and baby spinach which do not affect the taste. Smoothies are also a great way to incorporate frozen or fresh fruit.
- Make a frittata or omelet with leftover roasted vegetables.
- Add vegetables to your sandwiches, such as cucumber, sprouts, tomato, or lettuce.
- Make your own vegetable soup and add chopped fresh or frozen veggies, such as onions, carrots, peppers, spinach, kale, broccoli, and celery.
- Substitute chips or fries with fruit or raw vegetables sticks.
- Make a whole-wheat wrap with roasted vegetables, hummus, and low-fat cheese.
- Add vegetables to pasta salad, such as diced peppers, onions, and broccoli.
- Incorporate apples, grapes and/or cranberries into chicken salad.
- Include a side salad with dinner.
- Add a side of steam-in-bag vegetables to fill up half of your plate.
- Make a sheet pan meal or make roasted vegetables to have on the side.
- Add extra vegetables to chili.
- Top pizza with vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini.
- Incorporate riced veggies, such as cauliflower rice, into regular white or brown rice. Experiment with spiralized beets or zucchini mixed into regular spaghetti. Alternatively, try roasted spaghetti squash with tomato sauce.
- Mix vegetables into tomato sauce, such as tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant, or grated carrots.
- Add roasted vegetables to a grain bowl.
- Grill vegetables as part of kabobs; tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and onions work well.
- Grill fruit kabobs with pineapple, peaches and banana.
- Top a baked potato with beans, salsa, broccoli and low-fat cheese.
- Mix vegetables into rice, pasta, stir fries, quesadillas and casseroles.
- Add zucchini, spinach and carrots (shredded, grated or chopped) to lasagna, meatloaf, and mashed potatoes.
- Try mashed cauliflower as a side to your meal.
- Make your own trail mix with no sugar added dried fruit and nuts.
- Add fruits and vegetables to your baked goods, such as zucchini bread or blueberry muffins.
- Pair vegetables or fruit with a dip (e.g. hummus, guacamole, nut butter, plain Greek yogurt).
- Add tomatoes and fresh basil or fruit to cottage or ricotta cheese.
- Top rice cakes with peanut butter and sliced bananas and strawberries with dash of cinnamon or top with hummus and sliced bell peppers for a savory option.
- Slice a banana lengthwise, top with a scoop of low-fat yogurt and add chopped nuts.
- Melt a square of dark cholate and drizzle over berries or half of a banana.
By looking for creative, quick and easy ways to add fruits and vegetables to your diet, you are not only increasing intake of minerals, vitamins and fiber but also adding more variety and flavor to your meals. For help with increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, schedule an appointment with an Avance Care Registered Dietitian by calling 919-237-1337 option 4 or schedule online at www.avancenutrition.com. We are currently offering appointments via Telehealth.
Kathryn is a registered dietitian working at the Holly Springs and Garner locations. She enjoys running and walking outside, reading, baking, and trying new recipes. Since moving to North Carolina in November, she and her husband have enjoyed checking out new cities and places to hike.