Here’s why: By now, you have probably heard that the new USDA recommendation for optimal health is to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables of all colors. Countless studies show that the fiber helps keep weight down and also that the different pigments in the skins of produce are powerful antioxidants that help the immune system function properly and prevent life-shortening diseases. The countries with the highest amount of centenarians eat very large portions of vegetables and consume almost none of our modern packaged foods. These centenarians live to a ripe old age in basically good health, suffering from very little heart and liver disease and showing very slight rates of cancer and degenerative diseases. Research supports this: compared with people who eat very small amounts of produce, those who eat larger amounts as part of a healthful diet are more likely to have reduced risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers, and many chronic conditions.
A few tips: Eat foods of all colors–red, yellow, green, white, and dark colored–to get a variety of vitamins and nutrients that will optimize your body’s immunity. Also, go organic when possible and clean your vegetables well when not possible. Buy what’s in season for the best taste, best nutrition, and usually the best price.
Top immunity food picks: broccoli, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, cauliflower, cabbage, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, bell peppers, mushrooms, chives, garlic, leeks, daikon radishes, citrus fruits, and berries.
Simple ways to fit produce servings in
First of all, what is a serving? It depends on the food and the preparation method, but a good rule of thumb is that one serving is what you can fit into a single cupped hand. Here are some tips to add more produce servings into your day:
• Sprinkle berries or sliced fruit on your morning cereal.
• Add broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, and other veggies to your scrambled eggs.
• Bring along a piece of fruit for snacking on the go.
• Snack on baby carrots between meals.
• Add tomato, greens, and sprouts to any sandwich.
• Try new salad combos and don’t be afraid to add fruit. How about spinach, apples, raisins, walnuts, and celery?
• Sautéing or steaming greens is a simple way to prepare immune-boosting greens–collards, Swiss chard, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and more. Drizzle with olive oil and herbs and enjoy!
• You can fit numerous vegetable servings in a soup, stew, or stir fry dish. Save yourself some time by making in bulk and freezing for later.
• Become a fan of fresh juice and create your own immune-boosting juice recipes with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
• Shred carrots or zucchini into casseroles, quick breads, and muffins.
• Fruit is a wonderful dessert. Stew pears with cinnamon or serve baked apples with walnuts and raisins.
If you eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables almost every day, come up with a way to reward yourself. You will be more inclined to follow through with your goal when there is an added bonus in sight.
Stay on track
To stay on course, ask yourself these questions each day. Keeping a written record of daily answers will help you stay motivated.
• Are you eating at least five servings of fruit and veggies every day? What has the experience been like for you?
• How do you feel today compared to the previous day? How about to one week ago? You may feel stronger, more energized, and less prone to seasonal illness.
• What obstacles are keeping you from eating at least 5 fruit and vegetable servings every day? What can you do to remove the barrier?
Make it happen! An answer for every excuse
• Miss a day? Sometimes during a busy week, you may miss a day or two. Do not think this means you are a failure! Forgive yourself and ponder the reasons for missing a few days. What could you do differently for more successful results? Then, recommit, make adjustments, and continue where you left off. Don’t ever give up!
• Too much work. Anyone who has had the experience of opening their fridge and being greeted by a moldy tomato knows that produce can require some planning; but it does not have to be a lot of work, especially nowadays when there are pre-cut vegetables, bagged lettuce, and other conveniences being sold in markets. The serving tips above can help you introduce produce fairly easily into your usual meals. Start small if need be. Begin with just 2 different veggies and 1 fruit, learn some recipes, and before you know it, you’ll be up to 5 a day.
• Too expensive. There is a common myth that healthy eating costs a lot of money. It all depends on how you look at it. Which will cause you more expensive health problems down the road: wholesome foods or packaged foods? Wholesome fruits and vegetables may cost more now than a colorless (and nutrition-less) instant meal, but you are investing in your long-term health and long-term immunity! Also, it can be helpful to buy a little extra of what’s on sale today and freeze some for later. Or–how about growing your own produce?