Fruits and vegetables: The great allies against obesity
Experts insist that obesity in the United States is closely linked to a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and high in processed products.
Unfortunately, it’s no longer news that the United States leads the list of countries with the highest number of people with obesity. The latest official data shows that between 2015 and 2016, almost 40 percent of American adults were obese - in 7.7 percent of cases, the type of obesity was severe.
These numbers represent a dangerous curve that continues to grow year after year, increasing the population’s risk of suffering health problems associated with obesity, including heart disease, diabetes and different types of cancer, among others.
Experts insist that obesity in the United States is closely linked to a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and high in processed products. Although in recent years tools such as Instagram have helped to popularize the consumption of plant-based foods, the diet of the average American is still far from being able to be considered healthy.
For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Produce For Better Health Foundation (PBH) have joined forces to make September “the month of fruits and vegetables.” Now, within its program “Fruits and Veggies - More Matters,” this foundation has created a series of resources to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Why should we increase our intake of fruits and vegetables?
The recommendation to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables is not new. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned for years about the importance of following a healthy diet based on these foods. According to its data, each year a total of 1.7 million lives could be saved if the intake of fruits and vegetables sufficiently increased.
Both fruits and vegetables have a high content of nutrients. While some contain a high amount of potassium, which keeps blood pressure at an optimal level, others have vitamins that help to maintain good health and fight infections. In addition, they are rich in antioxidants that can prevent the onset of chronic diseases (such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes).
As if that’s not enough, these foods also contain dietary fiber, which helps eliminate bad cholesterol and is key to normal functioning of the digestive system, generating a feeling of fullness that prevents obesity.
The WHO recommends a minimum intake of 400 grams (5 servings) a day of fruits and vegetables. However, most of us ingest an amount well below this guideline.
Tips to increase your consumption
Consider your food intake over the past few days. You may realize that the diet you follow is not as healthy as it should be. Expert nutritionists remind us that it is important to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables in a gradual way until we reach the amount recommended by the WHO.
So how can we get to five portions?
- Replace processed foods with their unprocessed alternatives
How many times do you turn to processed foods made from fruits or vegetables, such as pre-cooked vegetable purées, for example? These types of prepared food, in addition to containing a very low percentage of vegetables, also tend to have in their composition some small “surprises,” including high amounts of sugar or unnecessary supplies of salt.
Take the opportunity to replace this type of food with home-prepared vegetable purées. Not only will you be increasing your daily vegetable intake but you will also be reducing the consumption of substances that are dangerous and harmful to health such as sugar and salt. This recommendation can be applied to any other prepared product that you can cook at home. The best examples are fruit juices or jams, two good alternatives to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
- Test new flavors
Despite what we may think, eating fruits and vegetables does not have to be boring. Have you tried rutabaga? The artichoke of Jerusalem? Prickly pears? Red algae or sea fennel? You can always find new alternatives in your supermarket to keep the kitchen fun. Take the time to discover new flavors; you will eat in a healthier way without realizing it.
- Learn a new recipe
Do you know that ketchup and tzatziki contain vegetables? These are simple recipes that you can prepare in just a few minutes that constitute a very good alternative to other types of snacks or prepared foods. Try to make them at home and accompany them with carrots and sliced cucumber to discover the real flavor of these recipes. They are much tastier than the prepared options found in the supermarket!
- Alternate flavors
Many people abandon the consumption of fruits and vegetables because they think that these foods are “boring.” However, if you follow the seasonal fruit and vegetable calendar, you will notice that a new flavor awaits your taste buds each month. For example, during the fall months in the United States, foods such as cauliflower, broccoli, grapes, pears or pineapples are at their best. Don’t forget to try them and wait with anticipation for what winter will bring!
- Create new habits at home
The “Fruits & Veggies - More Matters” initiative reminds us of the importance of transferring all of these recommendations to the little ones. The consumption of fruits and vegetables in children is recommended after six months of age (although you should always consult your pediatrician). It is a task that initially can be arduous since your child may initially reject these new flavors and textures. It is recommended to offer the consumption of these foods in a continuous manner so that your child creates a healthy habit.
In order to get children accustomed, it is of vital importance that new habits are generated at home that encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Activities such as sitting down for breakfast as a family or involving all family members in the preparation of meals can make the little ones more aware of the need to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
“Fruits & Veggies - More Matters” also suggests replacing snacks that we usually give children with healthier options. Some of the alternatives the initiative proposes are fruit sandwiches, yogurt with fruit, fruit juices prepared at home or dried fruit.
Instilling these habits in children is vital to lay a foundation for healthy eating throughout their lives. In addition, experts remind us that the incorporation of fruits and vegetables to children’s diets is essential when it comes to preventing many diseases.
“Fruits & Veggies - More Matters” has created a website where you can see all the benefits of fruit and vegetable intake. On the site, you can also find activities to encourage consumption in children and delicious recipes with high fruit and vegetable content.