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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 02/24/2017

Why do you need 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day?

You may have heard of the campaign “5 A Day”. This is based on the World Health Organization’s recommendation of eating a minimum of 14 ounces, or 5 servings, of fruit and vegetables per day to lower your risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, some cancers, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and birth defects. Approximately 1.7 million (2.8%) deaths worldwide can be attributed to low fruit and vegetable consumption.

New dietetic guidelines from the USDA recommend filling half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at every meal. In fact, experts suggest that you should eat between 5 and 9 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Those are portions of fruits and vegetables in total, not 5 portions of each. Eating different-colored foods provide you with a variety of phytonutrients, such as lycopene in tomatoes, beta carotenes in red bell peppers, and flavonoids and ellagic acid in grapes and eggplants.

As you may have learned from previous Wellness Bulletins, phytonutrients are compounds found in plant foods that give them their rich pigment and distinctive taste and smell. Each phytonutrient has different proposed health effects: they may be anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, or immuno-modulating, to name a few. It should be noted that in general, most phytonutrients are destroyed when exposed to heat. Therefore, eating foods that are less processed and uncooked will give you more phytonutrients.

On the other hand, eating too many fruits can raise your glucose and calorie intake, increasing your risk of becoming overweight. Try to eat more vegetables than fruits, but still include both in every meal if possible. And remember - all fruits and vegetables, except root vegetables or starchy vegetables (examples include beets and potatoes), count towards your 5-a-day target.

Visit this link to find the average serving sizes in order to accurately track the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat. 

Meal Planning Tips to Help You Get Your Goal

Add fresh or dried fruit to your cereal, yogurt or porridge.
Add vegetables to your eggs and make a frittata. (You can find many frittata recipes online)
Top your favorite eggs with Pico de Gallo.
Keep chopped fruit in containers in your fridge for an easy, no-preparation breakfast.
Prepare a fruit shake with half a banana, your favorite fruit, nuts, oatmeal flakes and low-fat milk. You can substitute almond milk if you prefer.

Have a side salad with your usual sandwich instead of chips.
Choose pasta salad with chicken or shrimp and lots of veggies, instead of spaghetti with Alfredo or meat sauce.
Choose a wrap with hummus, veggies and chicken instead of a sandwich.
Have a bowl of vegetable soup with beans.

Roast veggies in advance so half of your dinner is ready ahead of time.
Cook a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables and your favorite meat (beef, chicken or shrimp).
Start your dinner with a bowl of vegetable soup.
Keep a mixed lettuce bag ready to eat in the refrigerator. You can add bell peppers, tomatoes and drained beans to make a quick salad.

Keep apples, plums, peaches or bananas at your desk to snack on during the day.
Pack a Ziploc bag with raw vegetable sticks (celery, carrots, bell peppers and grape tomatoes). You can eat them alone or with hummus.

Recipe of the Week: Minestrone Soup with Pasta, Beans and Vegetables

3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can white cannellini or navy beans, drained (Try BPA-free brands, such as Eden, Trader Joes, Amy’s, etc).
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 bay leaves
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups cooked ditalini pasta
1 medium zucchini, chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen spinach, defrosted
Basil to taste (optional)

In a slow cooker, combine broth, tomatoes, beans, carrots, celery, onion, thyme, sage, bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.
Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add ditalini, zucchini and spinach. Cover and cook for the remaining thirty minutes. Remove bay leaves and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle parmesan cheese over top. Garnish with basil if desired.
Note: You can also buy pre-cut vegetables in your favorite supermarket or you can use a bag of frozen vegetables to avoid spending time chopping the veggies.

*Recipe via The Food Network 

If you want some more easy recipes or more ideas on how to increase your fruit and vegetables intake, feel free to stop by my desk.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Karen Ambrosio, OWS

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