Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and obesity – all of which top the list of leading causes of death in the US.[i] But we all know this, right? Most of us could probably have a full-length conversation about kale without batting an eye.
Yet for the most part, we don’t seem to be letting this knowledge impact our dietary habits. We may like to talk about it, but when it comes to consuming plants, we fall embarrassingly short: fewer than 1 in 10 adults eat the daily-recommended amount of vegetables and fewer than 1 in 7 adults eat the daily-recommended amount of fruit.[ii] (The new recommendations can be found in the recently published and somewhat contested[iii] Dietary Guidelines for Americans.[iv])
Look, we’re not cows: we can’t spend 8 hours a day grazing on raw greens. So let’s talk about realistic solutions to upping our produce intake. Let’s talk about ways to bridge the gap between knowing we should hypothetically eat Brussels sprouts and actually having garlicky roasted Brussels sprouts instead of French fries with dinner.
Make It Taste Good
The huge discrepancy between recommendations and reality when it comes to eating produce suggests that we aren’t going to eat anything we don’t want to, no matter what our doctors tell us. So then if we’re going to eat more plants, it has to become something we’re not forcing ourselves to do. If everything we ate tasted delicious – if we enjoyed and savored every bite we took, including fruits and vegetables – I’m venturing we’d be much more inclined to eat them.
I’m not advocating ubiquitous deep-frying, but you can roast, grill, sauté, or smother it in sriracha. Herbs and spices are truly gifts from nature that can work miracles with a plant’s natural flavors. Or add olive oil, nuts, and seeds: it’ll really liven up that salad and research shows[v] it’s time to let go of our indiscriminate fear of fats. You can play around in the kitchen, learning how to remove fruits and vegetables from the category of dreaded food, and into the realm of cravings-worthy food you want to eat.
Another way to up your own produce intake is to use a similar idea popular with parents who want their kids to eat more vegetables because ironically enough, we’re just as guilty as the kids in avoiding them. Sneak them in. This is, in a way, the opposite approach from above: instead of working with a plant’s taste and texture, you disguise it. There are all sorts of ways to do this, from making cauliflower pizza crust to zucchini pasta noodles.
There are literally countless blog, Instagram, and Pinterest posts with creative ideas on this topic. One of the easiest ways to do it, especially when you don’t feel like cooking, is to make smoothies. You don’t need a fancy blender, just fresh ingredients. Blend up a bunch of spinach with frozen banana and peanut butter, and it tastes more like ice cream than salad.
Get Creative With Your Toppings
Nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day may sound like a ton, but getting to that number can become pretty easy once you get in the habit of incorporating them into meals. It can be as easy as sprinkling berries onto your yogurt, seaweed onto your soup, or sprouts onto your sandwich.
Putting stuff on toast is an enduring and inescapable food trend, so use it as a chance to make delicious plant-powered options. Have you eaten avocado toast yet? If not, you should make this delicious concoction immediately, preferably topped with as many fresh veggies as you can balance on the bread slice.
Have Them Around
Last but perhaps most importantly – and at the risk of sounding painfully evident – you have to have fruits and vegetables in the house if you want to eat fruits and vegetables. Simply by having them around, we are more likely to eat them. Research shows[vi] that apparently we are pretty lazy when it comes to food choices, tending to eat whatever is closest and most convenient to our outstretched hand. So do yourself a favor and have that closest thing be an orange.
All of the fresh fruits and vegetables available this time of year makes it especially easy and fun to eat more produce. Let us know your favorite way to eat your nine servings a day!