Every month we sponsor some sort of healthy eating challenge for 30 days to inspire you to better nutrition and health. In January we dropped junk food, in April we incorporated soups, smoothies and salads daily, and in May we eliminated any and all white foods.
For the month of June we want to increase your intake of vital vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber by upping the fresh fruits and vegetables you eat to SIX per day SIX times per week. This is the perfect time of year for a fresh fruit and vegetable challenge, as summer melons, peaches, apricots, and cherries, fresh corn, Heirloom tomatoes, okra and summer squashes hit the produce aisles.
With that said, the fact is that no matter what time of year it is, Americans are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables. A CDC report released in 2010 concluded:
…the percentage of adults who eat fruit twice a day or more was just 32.5% in 2009, down from 34.4% in 2000. The percentage who eat vegetables three or more times a day remained relatively the same: 26.3% in 2009, down just a fraction from 26.7% in 2000.
Just this past February, the government revised its dietary guidelines and for the first time ever asked Americans to consider the health of the planet in their food choices as well as the amount of sugar being consumed, as summarized by USA Today:
Americans should consider the health of the planet along with the health of their hearts when deciding what to eat, according to an expert panel that advises the federal government on nutrition.
It is the first time the advisory committee, which updates its recommendations in a report every five years, has considered the environmental impact of food choices.
Also for the first time, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee singled out “added sugars” — those not naturally found in foods such as fruit –encouraging Americans to sharply cut back.
Rather than obsess over individual ingredients, the report urges Americans to think about healthy dietary patterns, with more fruits, nuts, legumes, vegetables and whole grains, and less red or processed meat. That type of diet is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Plant-based diets also use fewer resources, such as land, water and energy, and produce fewer greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Vegetables also are less likely than livestock to pollute the land…
Benefits of Eating Fruits and Vegetables
It is hard to deny the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they contain can lower your blood pressure, reduce the risk of eye and digestive problems, substantially lower risk of developing heart disease, keep your arteries clear which helps avoid stroke, and the high quality nutrition provided is also associated with reduced cancer risks.
Eating more fruits and vegetables has also been linked to better mental and emotional health. As reported in The Atlantic Monthly:
“…happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables.” While in some cases it rounds out at the recommended five per day, well-being appears to peak at seven.
In many cases, the improvements associated with fruit and vegetable consumption were substantial. For example, the authors explain that “When comparing small and large levels of fruit and vegetable consumption per day, the effect corresponds to between 0.25 and 0.33 life-satisfaction points. To put that in perspective, the known (huge) effect of being unemployed corresponds to a loss of 0.90 of a life-satisfaction point.”
Oh, and one more benefit for diabetics and those seeking to lose a few pounds — a diet rich in high fiber fruits and vegetables also help balance sugar levels, and keep your appetite from getting out of control which will help you be successful and meet your weight loss and healthy eating challenge goals.
How Many Fruits and Vegetables Should I Be Eating?
The USDA Five A Day program advises that Americans aim for a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. However, our goal during this healthy eating challenge is to consume no less than six servings per day. Following the guidelines of the No White Foods Challenge, try to choose fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored, and try to eat a variety of them over the course of a week.
Look for dark green, yellow, orange, purple, green and red! By choosing a variety you are giving your body a mix of nutrients, as each type of fruit and vegetable offers a different nutritional profile.
- Purchase local produce. Fruits and vegetables are one of the best sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Local produce has an added bonus of being fresher, more sustainable and typically tastier than produce found in grocery stores. Two easy ways to get local produce are: Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) and Farmers Markets. Try these websites to find a CSA or Farmer’s Market near you: Local Harvest: www.localharvest.org and Eat Well Guide: www.eatwellguide.org
- Keep fruit visible. Make a fruit bowl and sit it on your table or counter so your fruit is out where you can see it. That way you and the family will be more likely to eat fruit instead of digging around for some chips, cookies or other junk.
- Eat fruits and vegetables at every meal. Meals should be based on your plate being 50% filled with vegetables. Sounds daunting? Not really. Try making a big salad to which you can add a protein source, or a stir fry, or a vegetable based soup. Serving two or even three vegetables with dinner along with your protein and a healthy starch will make you feel full faster, helping you ingest fewer calories.
- Experiment! This is your opportunity to try something new in the produce aisle. Ask your produce manager for recommendations based on what came in fresh that day. Search the web for ideas on how to prepare it and get yourself and your family excited about expanding your culinary and nutritional horizons. Ingesting a variety of foods is the key to a healthy diet, so it helps to get out of your comfort zone and try some of the hundreds of different fruits and vegetables available. Also experiment with cooking techniques. Preparing fruits and veggies in different ways can help eliminate boredom by creating variety. Some options are steamed, slow-cooked, sautéed, stir-fried, grilled, poached and even cooked in the microwave.
- Switch up your potatoes. White Idaho potatoes are so 80s! Switch up and try some of the many varieties of brightly colored purple, yellow and orange carotenoid- and flavonoid-rich potatoes available in different regions of the country. Look for Yukon Gold, Michigold, Donna, Purple Marker, Purple Viking, Saginaw Gold, Red Gold, Rose Gold, and Ruby Crescent along with yams and sweet potatoes.
- Make vegetables your meal. Try recipes where vegetables take center stage. A vegetable plate is always a healthy choice and you don’t have to feel guilty for having seconds!
What are the Guidelines for the Healthy Eating Challenge?
Though fresh or frozen are preferable, for this challenge all forms of fruits and vegetables will count. Our goal is to get you to eat more fruits and vegetables, so we’re not going to be picky about what form they’re in! Feel free to choose fresh, frozen, 100% juice (though this should be limited if you are looking to lose pounds), canned fruit and vegetables, or even dried (again, limit these if you want to lose).
Frozen and canned fruit and veggies can be a good alternative to fresh and will not rot or spoil on you before you can eat them. This is especially important if you live alone and are cooking for one most of the time.
If you do opt for canned goods, be sure to read the label. Look for canned fruit packed in juice – without added sugars or syrups. Canned vegetables should be packed without added salt, butter, or creamy sauces. You want your canned or frozen choices to be as close to fresh and processed as little as possible. Fruit juices count toward your daily intake, but you want most of your choices to be whole fruits to get the benefit of the dietary fiber.
Are Some Vegetables and Fruits Better Than Others?
While all fruits and vegetables are healthy, there are several notable powerhouses that offer exceptional nutrition.
- Brassica family. Broccoli, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, kohlrabi, red and green cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and cauliflower are all considered members of the Brassica family of vegetables. These vegetables are super rich in phytochemicals, and known to have exceptional antioxidant properties – full of vitamin C, mineral calcium, potassium, magnesium, fiber, iron, and vitamin A.
- Carrots are a good source of fiber, which helps to maintain bowel health, lower blood cholesterol, and aid in weight maintenance. The orange pigment found in carrots are due to the antioxidant beta-carotene, also found in other deep orange foods such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, papaya, and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and helps to maintain healthy eyes, support your immune system, keep your skin healthy, and protect against certain cancers.
- Spinach is available year-round in grocery stores around the country, offering a readily available source of many vitamins and minerals. Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, K, C, and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains phytochemicals that may boost your immune system and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may be preventative against certain cancers.
- Sweet potatoes are considered the #1 most nutritious vegetable on the planet. It is extremely rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene and are also full of fiber, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, and the mineral potassium. They are especially nutritious when eaten with the skin on, and contrary to a popular dieting myth, they are not fattening unless you load them up with butter.
- Beets contain healthy doses of iron, the B-vitamin folate, and fiber. Red beets offer betacyanin, a plant pigment, which may protect against colon cancer.
- Blackberries. Considered the top #1 most nutritious fruit, blackberries are high in vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin E and other antioxidants. They are also very low in sugar and calories. During the summer months, try to eat some berries every day, as they’re all great for you. Mix and match from raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, and whatever local berries are in your area.
- Cantaloupe. This member of the melon family is rich in beta-carotene, a plant-based antioxidant that helps with eye health, among other conditions. It is also rich in the mineral potassium, which may help lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke. And, it is terrific if you are weight watching — a one-cup serving contains a mere 50 calories. Try eating it with breakfast, as a snack, or blended into a smoothie for a refreshing snack.
- Watermelon, which hits its high season shortly is especially wonderful during the summer. Watermelon offers lots of water to keep you hydrated, along with a crisp crunch, and juicy sweetness. Watermelon is no slouch in the nutrition department either, packing in the antioxidants lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and the minerals potassium and magnesium.
- Citrus fruits, including tangerines, oranges and grapefruits, provide a significant source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium, as well as fiber. Texas pink grapefruits are a personal favorite, and they are particularly rich in the antioxidant lycopene. Peel and eat your citrus fruits whole, as you will receive more nutrients and fiber vs. juicing them.
- Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). They are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E.
- Grapes. Eating grapes may reduce the risk of blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and prevent damage to the heart’s blood vessels, aiding in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure. Antioxidants called flavonoids may even increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind). The resveratrol found in the skins of red grapes may interfere with cancer development. Eating the whole fruit instead of consuming the juice contains the added benefit of fiber. As grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed fruits, be sure to wash your fruit carefully with a vinegar water blend, or a commercial fruit and vegetable wash before consuming.
What is a Serving Size for Fruits and Vegetables?
In addition, here is a more comprehensive cheat sheet you can print out and carry with you in your bag or tack onto your refrigerator during this healthy eating challenge and maybe even afterwards.
To help you stay on track the whole month and maximize your success, I’ve created a tally sheet you can use to keep count of how many servings of either fruits or vegetables you are having at each meal. Nothing like a visual to see if you need to step up your veggie game or if you are doing well! The document also contains a breakdown of serving sizes to help you remember proper quantities. Download the PDF document for printing at www.blacksgoingvegan.com/docs/6x6TalleySheet.pdf
- Fruit Nutrition Database
- 31 Day Eat More Veggies Plan
- Vegetable Nutrition Database
- Fruit and Vegetable Recipe Search
- 10 Ways to Increase Your Fruit and Veggie Intake
- Losing Weight on a Fruit and Vegetable Diet
- Seven Day Fruit and Vegetable Cleanse
- BlacksGoingVegan Pinterest board
- Food Network Vegetable Recipes
- Cooking Light Top Rated Vegetable Recipes
- Food & Wine Vegetable Recipes
- 40 Garden Fresh Vegetable Recipes
- Grilled Vegetable Recipes
If you have any more questions, submit it using the Contact Us page. Other than that, on May 31st make sure you have your first few days of fruits and vegetables on hand and be ready to go on Monday, June 1st when you open your eyes in the morning!
Category: Veganism and African Americans