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Easy ways to add fruits and vegetables to your diet

Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 11:50 a.m. CDT

Think about what you ate yesterday. How many fruits and vegetables did you consume? Studies reveal that only 1 in 10 Americans are meeting their fruit and vegetable intake recommendations. The average adult recommendation is 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 ½ cups per day for vegetables.

The benefits of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day are numerous:

• Promoting long-term maintenance of a healthy body weight

• Providing essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function every day

• Giving you fiber that keeps your digestive tract healthy and helps protect against diseases such as diverticulosis

• Possibly preventing some types of cancer and chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and cataract formation.

These health effects are possibly even more pronounced when consuming a wide variety of different colored produce, in particular, dark, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, and deep-yellow-orange fruits and vegetables.

Portion examples

The following is equal to one cup of fruits or vegetables:

• One piece of fruit

• 2 cups of raw leafy greens

• 1 cup of other chopped fruit or raw/cooked vegetables

• The size of your fist or a baseball is approximately 1 cup. This is about 12 baby carrots or 32 grapes.

Here are some tips for integrating more fruits or vegetables into your meals and snacks:

Breakfast

• Grab a piece of fresh fruit in the morning. If you do not eat it at breakfast it will make a great mid-morning snack.

• Add two handfuls of berries to your cereal.

• Cook a cored and chopped apple in your oatmeal. Leave the peel on for the most nutritional benefit.

• Add chopped vegetables, such as tomato, mushrooms, onion, spinach, or peppers, to scrambled eggs.

• Add fresh fruit, such as banana or berries, to your pancake or French toast recipe.

• Make your own fresh-fruit smoothie with skim milk or lite yogurt and ice. Add some vegetables to the mix, such as cucumber or fresh spinach for a mild flavor and extra nutrients.

If you drink juice, make sure it is 100-percent juice without added sugars or fillers.

Lunch

• Top your sandwiches with lots of fresh veggies, such as romaine lettuce or spinach, tomato, onions, sprouts, mushrooms, or fresh red pepper. These add fresh flavor and a nice crunch.

• Choose a soup loaded with vegetables, such as minestrone or chicken with vegetables. Add extra cooked vegetables to canned soup.

• Bring along a handful of baby carrots, celery spears, or a piece of fruit to munch on with your lunch.

• Consider adding fruit to your salads, such as apples, pears or oranges, for a sweet and tangy kick.

Dinner

• Add chopped vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, mushrooms, or peppers, to your mashed potatoes. You will not even notice them.

• Buy a bag of spinach and throw a handful on top of any of your dinners as a colorful garnish. The heat of the food will wilt the spinach, so it blends into your food and becomes a healthy addition with little extra effort.

• Roast vegetables. Slice vegetables, such as eggplant, peppers, onions, and sweet potatoes, coat them with a little olive oil and spices, and place them on a baking sheet. Bake at 400ş F for 30-40 minutes, depending on thickness, until fork-tender.

• The 7-minute potato: Poke holes in a sweet potato with a fork. Place it in the microwave and cook on high for 6 minutes, turning the potato once halfway through cooking. Cut it open, and top with some cinnamon. Use caution when opening — the potato will be really hot!

• If you are in the mood for pizza, buy one slice loaded with vegetables, instead of two plain slices. Add a side salad.

• If you are in the mood for Chinese, choose an option that has lots of veggies (and avoid the fried options!)

• When eating Mexican, include beans, peppers, onions, and any other extra vegetables that is available, such as tomato, cilantro, or fresh salsa.

By integrating fruits and vegetables into meals, you will become satisfied with less amounts of food and stay fuller longer. This effect is due to the fiber, water, and high-nutrient content of the fruits and vegetables. Start today!

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