Only about one in 10 of us eats enough vegetables and fruits, according to a study out this month from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specifically, only 13 percent of Americans eat the recommended 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit daily and less than 9 percent eat the 2 to 3 cups a day of vegetables that are recommended for good health, according to the CDC.
Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables can help prevent chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. And with Central Florida’s scorching temperatures, many of us are looking for lighter, refreshing menu options. Veggies and fruits can play a starring roles in such dishes. Another plus: If you get the family into a “fruit and veggie” habit now, healthy eating can become a routine by the time the hectic school year starts.
Here are ways to increase produce in your diet – and have fun doing it.
* Every chef knows we eat with our eyes, that visual cues help determine how we enjoy food. Put a container of baby carrots, cucumber slices, celery sticks and radishes at eye level in your refrigerator so you’ll see them the next time you search for a snack. Include a variety of colorful fruits and veggies in your meals. The variety is not only attractive to the eye, it’s healthy. Or make fresh produce part of your decorating scheme — put a bowl of fresh fruits and veggies on the kitchen counter as a colorful reminder to eat well.
* Make a salad part of your daily meal plan. A salad with a variety of vegetables – and low-fat dressing – can be a side dish with lunch or an appetizer at dinner.
* Swap breads, potatoes and rice for two different cooked veggies as a side dish. Spaghetti squash, for example, is so named because it resembles pasta when cooked, but adds more fiber and minerals and fewer carbohydrates.
* Speaking of spaghetti, bulk up your pasta sauce with veggies. Add fresh mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, zucchini, spinach – or any other vegetable you like – to favorite family staples.
* Think you don’t have time to prepare vegetables? Buy pre-made bagged salads or bagged frozen vegetables without sauce that you can steam in their containers. Double your recipe for chicken and vegetable stir fry and freeze the leftovers. Just microwave them for a quick and healthy dinner.
* Add veggies to homemade smoothies. Because store-bought smoothies can be high in sugar, calories and fats, many people are making them at home. But don’t forget your veggies in these drinks. Spinach adds healthy ingredients and you don’t even taste it. Kale adds its own special veggie punch. Dietitians recommend you blend fruits and vegetables with their skins on to increase your fiber intake – another health benefit from produce.
Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up and accepts most major insurance plans. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at UCFHealth.org, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.