There are two main barriers for most busy professionals when it comes to getting in more fruit and vegetables: 1) they are not as fun to eat as M&Ms; 2) They are also way harder to prepare – we don’t all have time to make unicorn food smoothies . And the last reason makes it really problematic for thoe of us who barely have time to eat in the first place. So here is your no-muss, no-fuss guide to getting in more fruits and vegetables for a healthier, leaner you in time for summer.
Why should you care about fruits and vegetables anyway?
- They have anti-aging and weight loss benefits. You don’t have to wonder like Cher if you can turn back time – you can.
- Keep blood pressure under control – which is great, because you will release less cortisol and be less stressed.
- Reach and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- Keep your arteries flexible.
- Protect your bones.
- Keep the eyes, brain, digestive system, and just about every other part of the body healthy. If you partied and treated your body like trash in your 20s, this is especially important for remedial purposes.
Can’t I just get the same benefits by taking vitamins and supplements?
Nope. This isn’t the Jetsons. Pills cannot replace food, per this artcle from Mayo Clinic. Supplements can be beneficial especially if you have certain mineral deficiciency, but their name explains exactly what they are intended to do – to supplement.
How fruits and vegetables are crictical for weight management:
- FIBER. Both fruit and vegetables have a ton of fiber. Fiber equals fullness, stable blood sugar, and less likelihood that you will want that cookie at 3pm.
- LOW IN CALORIES. All fruits and veggies qualify as “high volume, low calorie” foods. Meaning you can eat a bunch of them all day long and still have an overall low calorie balance. Most of them are fat free. The sugar that they have is natural and absorbed by the fiber.
- HIGH IN VITAMINS, MINERALS and ANTIOXIDANTS. Fruits and vegetables will make your skin glow, your hair shine, and your body leaner and more supple.
How much should you be getting?
Depending on their age and sex federal guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups per day of vegetables as part of a healthy eating pattern. How much is that, exactly? See the picture I have taken as a visual of how much you should be eating – and how much I eat. I have a “sour tooth,” so I love raspberries and granny smith apples for this reason and eat them almost every day. The veggies are just half of a steamed bag of California Vegetale Style blend. When we are short on time, I just poke a hole and pop this baby in the microwave. There is no shame in nuking when you are batsh*t busy. And the great news is that microwaving causes LESS nutrient loss than traditional cooking methods!
Does this mean I have to go vegan?
F*ck no. A balanced diet includes fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats and foods you enjoy under the 80/20 principle. You also don’t have to eat stuff you don’t like. If you don’t like asparagus, or apples, or spinach, there are a zillion other choices that statistically you will find at least somewhat enjoyable. Setting an agenda to eat kale every day because it is a superfood will set you up for a superfailure.
A good guideline that many health professionals recommennd is “eating the rainbow”. So as long as your fruit and veggies have at least 3 colors per day, you are doing pretty great. So think of it like this (from the Harvard Health Review Site):
Red: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cherries, apples, beets, watermelon, red grapes, red peppers, red onions
Orange and yellow: carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow peppers, oranges, bananas, pineapple, tangerines, mango, pumpkin, apricots, winter squash (butternut, acorn), peaches, cantaloupe, corn
Green: Spinach, avocados, asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, collard greens, green tea, green herbs (mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil)
Blue and purple: Blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, Concord grapes, raisins, eggplant, plums, figs, prunes, lavender, purple cabbage
White and brown: Found in: onions, cauliflower, garlic, leeks, parsnips, daikon radish, mushrooms
8 easy ways to get more fruits and vegetables
Ok. So how do you get more of them? Especially if you are not in love with all of them. And if some of them seem like they are onerous to prepare, chop and cook.
#1 Start small
You will get easily discouraged if you try to convert to a raw food diet in one day. And you don’t need to make that your goal. Start by planning on eating some fruit for a time of day when you normally crave something sweet. It could either be after you workout, in the afternoon or after dinner for dessert.
You can also add an extra vegetable to a food you already like to eat, in a way that you won’t notice the taste. For example, you can add zucchini to a grilled cheese sandwich or some greens to a smoothie you normally would order. A few blueberries on top of your ice cream. Tomatoes in your salad. Real small.
#2 Hit em up with style
Fruit and vegetables do not have to be plain and boring. You can bring on the bling bling. And you should, especially if you shill out 100 bucks at least for a pair of workout leggings.
Here are some ways to punch up your fruit and veggie snacks:
- Pair with a tasty dip, like nut butter with apple slices, or baby carrots with salsa, or broccoli with cottage cheese. This is also a great way to get extra protein.
- Make it dessert-like, like adding some greek yogurt and/or whipped cream (they you can get dairy free) to berries. You can also indulge in some of the healthy sour frozen candy recipes on Tik Tok (which are made with grapes)
- Bake them. Baked apples, pears, and papaya drizzled with honey can taste like pie. You can make your own carmelized vegetables by using one of these sheet pan vegetable recipes.
Sneak them in
If you do this the right way, you (or your kids) won’t even notice getting more fruits and veggies. Add berries to salads, chopped vegetables to omelets, pasta sauce, pizzas, chili, or stews. Use avocado instead of mayo in sandwiches (avocado is a fruit, one of the healthiest ones). You can also blend leafy greens like spinach, kale and even cauliflower into smoothies and barely notice them.
Here is an excellent smoothie recipe from Men’s Fitness (which I modified slightly). (Side Note: Men’s Fitness magazines have all the great stuff but less of the B.S. and this particular issue had heart throb Jared Leto, or Jordan Catalono, as he will always be in my heart).
The Creamy Blueberry Deluxe:
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 cup frozen cauliflower
- 1 cup greek or icelandic yogurt
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- Optional lemon sqeeuze
- Almond milk
- The caulflower and chia make it even thicker so you just have this delicious creamy blueberry smoothie WITH veggies and protein.
#4 Be exotic
Fruit doesn’t have to be apples and bananas. Try kiwi, pomegranate, papaya, pineapple, mango, goji, lychee, acai, pomegranate, or guava. Many of these fruits are available in grocery stores. If you are reluctant to spend time chopping, you can buy them pre-chopped (sure, it’s more expensive, but worth the price of your health!) Or spend a few minutes chopping up fruit as soon as you get home before you even put the fruit in the fridge.
#5 Minimize the work
Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries only have to be washed before they are eaten. And you can throw them straight into a bowl of cereal or yogurt in the morning, no prep work required. You can also get pre-washed spinach and other leafy green. Pre-frozen vegetables are also a gift. All you have to do there is poke a hole in the back and microwave it for 5 minutes to “self-steam” and then coat with some olive oil and salt. Whole foods and Trafer Joe’s both have great vegetable medlies, like Trader Joe’s Simply roasted Vegetables or Whole Foods Frozen Organic Vegetables, California Style Blend (which has broccoli, cauliflower and carrot). The beautiful thing about frozen veggies is you don’t have to spend time washing and chopping and they don’t spoil!
A lot of pre-bottled soups also have great vegetable blends, like Amy’s brand Organic vegetable barley soup and Rao’s Homemade Vegetable Minestrone Soup, and Knorr’s Hot and Sour Vegetable Soup. You can even buy pre-dehydrated vegetables and throw them in your own base if you want a fresher taste with less salt.
You can also buy pre-chopped frozen smoothie blends, like this Organic Mediterranean Medley mix from Whole Foods, which has Mediterranean Medley Organic Apricot, Organic Fig., Organic Kale, Organic Pomegranate Arils, Organic Raspberries.
#6 Let someone else do the work
What better than to order your own rainbow-colored salad from a place that you can pick up from or have delivered? Just follow my guidance in the DAO of Pimping your Salad to get the right toppings and BYOD (bring your own dressing). I cover the best options for low-calorie salad dressings in this post.
When it comes to cooked vegetables from take-out, you need to be wary of options from places like Thai, Chinese or Indian because those veggies can often be coated in oil and sugar. The best bet is to ask for those vegetables steamed or any sauces on the side. Another great option is getting these vegetables in a broth-based soup, like Pho, Hot and Sour chinese soup, or Tom Yum Soup. Make sure you look for broth-based rather than cream or milk-based soups in these instances, so for example skip the Tom Kha (which is basically the same as Tom Yum but in a coconut-milk base).
You can also try pre-made smoothie and soup mixes from delivery services like Daily Harvest. You can consult this article for a dietitian’s review of the pros and cons. Ordering smoothies from chains like Jamba juice or Smoothie king can work if you a) watch your portion sizes, b) make the ingredients simple. My formula is as follows: almond milk or water base, protein powder, 2 fruits, 2 vegetables, and 1 fat (nut butter or avocado). Skip the yogurt and definitely skip the frozen yogurt, and get a 12 ounce or smaller size.
#7 Make condiments and toppings work for you
The key to fun veggies is the right condiments. Unless you are a rabbit, no one likes eating vegetables plain. Use a little tamari sauce or coconut aminos to give your veggies a candy like texture. If salads seem boring, add something crunchy and yummy like some Parmesan crisps, tortilla chips, olives, sundried tomatoes, or goat cheese. Top the salad off with one of these delicious 30-calorie or less dressings, either DIY or ones you can buy, which I give you a roadmap to prepare in this post.
Just make sure you limit the “condiment caloriebombs” I discuss in this post – so measue out any oils or sauces that will otherwise drag down the health qualitty of the vegetables.The good news is you don’t have to compromise taste for healthy. Here is my post on how to make condiment substitutions and keep the taste (with a handy dandy chart).
Add the two C’s – cheese and chocolates
Remember those commercials where the little kid refuses to eat broccoli until it is presented coated in cheddar cheese and then he is all smiles? Well there is truth in advertising – cheese makes everything delicious! But you don’t have to subject your veggies to processed yellow cheese. You can add feta, goat cheese, parmesan, or even vegan options like Oatzerella shredded cheese.
As for chocolate, fruit dipped in chocolate is the ultimate luxury. In addition to a delectable dessert, you get plenty of heart-healthy antioxidants, some fiber, and a host of vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients.
If this sounds like a pain it’s actually really easy. Just buy some baking dark chocolate chips and toss them in a bowl, and then into the microwave for about 30 seconds or so.
#8 Replace starchy carbs with veggies
You can replace regular pizza crust with pre-made cauliflower pizza crust and pasta with zucchini noodles which you can buy pre-spiraled. Some deal with broccoli and cauliflower rice. If you like keeping your grains you can also mix them with the riced vegetables. You can even get pre-riced vegetables like from Rightrice.
Don’t be fooled by:
- Veggie chips or straws. They do not have substantial vegetable nutrients. Hippeas are basically Cheetos.
- Fruit and/ or vegetable juices. Basically they take all the good stuff out and leave the sugar.
- Dried fruit. Most of the dried food you see has added sugar. Some notable exceptions include prunes, dates, turkish apricots and figs. However, limit consumption because these are very high in calories for the nutrition that you get from them. One big example I often see in restaurant salads are dried cranberries – the ones they usually add have added sugar, so definitely take that into account when you are choosing a salad. In fact that’s usually a choice I would skip because the same salad usually has candied walnuts or pecans, so it’s all just candy, candy, candy.
Resources for books and recipes:
Also read.Your Foolproof guide to eating more veggies (MyFitnessPal blog)