Basics · Nutrition

Eat up! The truth about fruits and vegetables

My daughters will be two in September. Their vocabulary is expanding every day it seems. Some words only I can understand but others are very clear. Their favorite words are more, hot, coffee, book, ‘na (banana), apple, orange, ‘apes (grapes), please, cheese, mommy, daddy, horse, doggy, and eat. If you can’t tell by this list, these girls love fruit. They would eat it nonstop if I let them. Veggies, well, they eat those too but only fruit gets stuffed into their mouths so fast that their cheeks puff out while they ask for more. To them, fruit is the big treat of the day.

I daresay that every American knows that we should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. They are packed with vitamins and minerals, making every calorie nutrient dense. They are also a good source of dietary fiber. If you’re like my girls, all the fiber you get from fruit and vegetables is especially helpful in moving your daily dose of cheese through your system. Because you already know that you SHOULD be eating fruits and vegetables every day, I’m not going to waste your time trying to convince you to do this. Instead, I’m going to go over some basic information and then share some of my favorite ways to eat certain fruits and veggies in hopes that you’ll try them and enjoy them just as much as I do.

eat good to feel good

First let’s talk about fruit, because who doesn’t like fruit. A serving of fruit is equal to one cup. This could be fruit that is cut to fill one cup or one cup of 100% fruit juice (more on this in a minute). One small apple, one banana, one large orange, one large peach, one pear, one plum, and about eight strawberries are equal to one cup. If you’re eating dried fruit, one half cup is considered a serving. In general, you should eat two servings of fruit a day. That’s two cups. If you’re an active person, meaning you exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes a day, then you can probably eat more without overdoing it on calories. Fruits are naturally low in fat and high in potassium, Vitamin C, fiber, and folate (folic acid). Fruits also contain natural sugar (fructose).

Vegetables are a little more complicated. They’re broken into five groups. Like fruit, a serving of vegetables is considered one cup. Veggies that are cut to fill one cup, one cup of 100% vegetable juice, or two cups of leafy greens are all equal to one serving from the vegetable group. Some whole vegetables are considered a serving on their own, such as two carrots, one pepper, one medium sweet potato, and one medium potato. The five groups of vegetables are:

  1. Dark-green vegetables (lettuce, spinach, kale, collard greens)
  2. Starchy vegetables (corn, white potatoes)
  3. Red and orange vegetables (peppers, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes)
  4. Peas and beans (black, garbanzo, pinto, black-eyed peas, split peas)
  5. Other vegetables (celery, mushroom, onions, zucchini, cucumbers)

In general, you should eat 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day. Again, if you’re more active then you can eat more vegetables without worrying about the increase in calories. In fact, extra vegetables is a great option! Vegetables are naturally low in fat, sugar, and calories and high in potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, fiber, and folate.

I am not a big fan of juice; you will not find it in my house. In order to avoid excess sugar and unnecessary additives, eat the actual fruit and vegetables and skip the juice. Many juices are a combination of concentrate and juice, which means a lot more sugar is packed into each serving. This applies to juices that are labeled as 100% juice as well. If you cannot eat the fruit and veggies in their raw form, then juice is an acceptable option but pay close attention to the food label when you make your selection. Most importantly, watch the sugar content.

Here are a few ways to prepare your fruits and vegetables without overdoing the sugar:

  • Apples – Peel and slice apples into thin pieces. Sprinkle with cinnamon and place in a skillet over medium low heat. Slowly cook the apples until soft. Serve with nuts or as a side with any pork or ham dish. It is delicious!
  • Berries – Rinse and store in the fridge. Add to your yogurt and oatmeal at every opportunity.
  • Bananas – Peel and slice one banana into medallions then store in freezer in two separate portions (one portion is half a banana). When frozen, combine the banana with 2 Tbsp of peanut butter and 1 Tbsp of cocoa powder in a food processor. Enjoy your frozen “ice cream.”
  • Carrots / Potatoes / Parsnips – Clean and cut into large chunks. Coat with 2 Tbsp of oil and 1 tsp each of salt and pepper. Space evenly on a cookie sheet and bake in 350° oven for 1 hour.
  • Sweet Potatoes / Winter Squash – Peel and cut into large chunks. Coat with 2 tbsp of oil, 1 tsp cinnamon, and a sprinkle of dried rosemary. Space evenly on a cookie sheet and bake in 350° oven for 1 hour.
  • Zucchini / Summer Squash – Cut into chunks and drizzle a little olive oil on top. Place in a skillet over low to medium-low heat until soft. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top.
  • Broccoli / Cauliflower – Clean and cut. Place in steamer for 15-20 mins. No butter or salt required!
  • Asparagus – Clean and cut. Coat with olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic salt, and pepper. Roast in a 375° oven for 12 minutes.

There are so many more fruits and vegetables available in our grocery stores and even more ways to enjoy them. With this easy access, you should be able to eat five servings a day without too much difficulty. If cost is a factor, buy a combination of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. When buying canned fruit, choose those that are stored in water and not in juice.

Do you have any tips for adding vegetables to your day? Contact me and I’ll share your ideas with the FitGrape community.

FitTip: Plan to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Having a piece of fruit at breakfast and lunch (banana, apple), a vegetable at lunch (carrots, cucumbers), and a couple vegetables at dinner (salad, sweet potato) will quickly get you to that goal. It is OK to eat canned fruits and vegetables but pay attention to the label and only buy those that are stored in water. Whenever possible, skip the juice and eat the fruit instead to avoid extra sugar.

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