Open Arms of Minnesota

National Nutrition Month: Make Half of Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables

By Leah R. Gramlow RD, Open Arms Volunteer

Happy National Nutrition Month! Let’s kick off the month with a challenge to eat more fruits and vegetables.

As a rule of thumb, half of your plate at mealtimes should consist entirely of fruits and vegetables. The current recommendation is five servings or more every day. Fruits and vegetables are packed with flavor and have the added benefits of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and little-known chemicals called phytochemicals (pronounced fight-o-chemicals). Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has also been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers.

The fiber in fruits and vegetables can provide a feeling of fullness after eating a meal. Consuming enough fiber (at least 25 grams per day) can help you lose weight, reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and can also prevent a disease of the intestines called diverticulitis. Antioxidants that are found in fruits and vegetables include vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene and selenium. Antioxidants can help prevent blood clots, heart attacks and some cancers.

Not only is it important to eat five servings every day, but it is also important to eat different colors of fruits and vegetables. The colors come from naturally occurring compounds called phytochemicals that can reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Examples include sweet potatoes containing beta-carotene and tomatoes containing lycopene. These benefits can only be reaped from whole fruits and vegetables. Supplements cannot provide everything a whole fruit or vegetable can.

To increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, try eating them as snacks throughout the day and make sure every meal contains at least one to two servings. Vegetables can be served as a side dish or added into other foods such as soup, stir fry or pasta dishes. Fresh, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are all great to use depending on the season or your recipe. When buying canned goods be sure to buy vegetables with labels that say ‘low sodium’ and fruits that are not packed in heavy syrup.

Next time you get groceries, fill up half of your cart with fruits and vegetables so you can fill up half of your plate! The two recipes featured this week will help you achieve this first challenge.

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