Not a Colossal Shocker

April 15, 2014 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Foodland, Health Claims, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

It seems pretty clear that eating more fruit and vegetables is a very important part of keeping humans healthy. It’s not a colossal shocker when we read headlines notifying us that eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day will reduce our risk of death by 42 percent. The latest headlines based upon a study that came out of England and published in the British Medical Journal found the more fruit and vegetables that were consumed the lower the all-cause death rate was. The lead author, Dr. Oyinlola Oyebode of the epidemiological study was cited as saying: “We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering.” That’s not just from one certain disease state, but all-cause deaths, plus cancer and heart disease deaths separately. The fact is that it seems that by now most people realize that getting fruits and vegetables in their diet is important. The problem is that knowing it is not the decisive key to health. Changing from eating a diet without enough fruit and vegetables involves numerous complex behavioral changes.

Note: The study cited above found no benefit from fruit juice. In addition, they found a negative impact from canned fruit. It’s being hypothesized that the sugar in the canned fruit syrup outweighed any benefits of the fruit.

If you’re one of the people who this morning opened a packet of instant oatmeal with raisins (remember those few token flecks of fruit that fell into your bowl), maybe I can give you an idea or two of how to take some steps toward increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. Hot cereal hint: Make packets (put in the sweetener, spice, dried fruit, and old fashioned or steel cut oatmeal (not quick oats or instant); then all you or your family have to do is empty a pre-measured packet into a dish or pan, add the water, and place on the stove or in the microwave. Easiest hot breakfast of all! Personally, I usually don’t add the dried fruit, because we cut bananas, berries or cook with our own frozen fruit. You will be MUCH more generous with the fruit than the processed versions with their minimized portions – just enough to notice visually as it pours into your bowl. Typically you will not get one serving of fruit in your bowl from prepared packets from the food processors.

Because most people eat three to seven times per day, it involves lots of preparation and decisions. Certainly the change in the way we think about our ultimate goal in fruit and vegetable consumption is one of the early critical steps. Therefore, to begin with be sure that you put yourself into a positive frame of mind.  For example, you might pretend that you are a child on an Easter Egg Hunt. So long as it is a positive memory for you – trying to gather eggs. Put yourself into that positive frame of thinking; the goal – to search for, not eggs, but ways to get fruit and vegetables into your mouth, and the mouths that eat what you prepare, on a regular basis. Make it a positive, fun goal. Each new behavior or skill is like finding an Easter Egg, worthy of some self-congratulations.

  • I feel compelled to start with the number – 7 servings of fruits / vegetables. Don’t allow yourself to be frightened by the number seven or the number ten; especially if you’re part of the population that hasn’t yet made it to the old five servings a day goal. Start from where you are; adding fruit and vegetables is an improvement at any level. And one of the interesting findings of the study cited above is that the benefits are there with additions of servings at each level. You don’t have to take one giant step to get to some statistically significant number. This is definitely where incrementalism comes into play.
  • Another caution is: Going to the market and buying enough fresh fruit and vegetables to eat 10-a-day and you’ve only been eating 2 or 3 servings per day; it can be negative for future improvements. What happens is half or more of your well-intentioned purchases might rot before you use them. Then the next time, you think; “That was a big waste of money.”  Certainly, getting the fresh produce to your home is a critical step in using it. But in the beginning, you may want to consider an extra produce-shopping stop in your regular marketing schedule. That way you won’t waste the produce while you’re learning how to store it and how to get it into the menu.
  • Although variety is healthful and wonderful in menu planning, when the researchers say seven a day, they were just counting servings. You don’t have to have seven different varieties. I feel fairly confident that you will include variety as one of your goals, as you’ll grow very bored if you just use a few.  But having said that, if you have a large portion of vegetables, it may be more than one serving. A half-cup measure of vegetables is a full serving of the majority of vegetables; that’s a good rule of thumb to remember.  Thus, for example, a full cup of green beans is two servings. Also, if you put chopped onions into the green beans and you have one-half cup total of beans and onions, it is still one serving of vegetables, even though there are two different vegetables involved. Eventually, you will learn to increase variety, servings and ways to use them.
  • One of the ways that vegetables and fruit get into our diet is to have some generic plans for ordinary meals that include servings of fruit or veggies.  At our table for example:
    • Most breakfasts include two servings of fruit for each person. When we have reverse omelets, we may have 3 or 4 servings of vegetables. But most days it’s fruit at breakfast – 2 servings and no vegetables.
    • On salad days, lunch has about 3 to 5 servings of vegetables. On non-salad days, it is more like 2 or 3 vegetables and 2 fruit.
    • Dinner can vary from 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and sometimes a serving of fruit and sometimes none.

You can see that this can average well over 7 servings a day. I realize that we eat quite a bit of produce, but the point is that you establish the habit of thinking about each meal for your family and figuring out how to include more servings fruit or of vegetables. Don’t forget snacks and desserts as places to get in more fruit and veggies.

A standard breakfast at our home uses defrosted and blended frozen strawberries. First we cover our whole-wheat pancakes with Greek yogurt sweetened with a natural, zero-calorie sweetener, then we add the blended frozen strawberries.  The combination of sweet but tangy Greek yogurt and the blended strawberries makes a great syrup replacement. Breakfast tricks like this one and the fruit-in-oatmeal packets idea may add to your regular and easy ways to include additional produce into your menus. In the beginning of your quest to add servings of fruit, try these convenient breakfasts. They are both nice because they are ready for you in the pantry and freezer (not so perishable).

  • Often we have fresh frozen fruit from our trees (apricots or plums) or berries from Costco or the local farmer’s market. But if we run out of fresh or frozen fruit, then we have raisins or dates. We don’t have cereal, pancakes or muffins without fruit. So breakfast is easy.
  • If you’ve relied on meat and potatoes and want to add some veggies to the menu, you can easily just add some to the present meat and potatoes. But learning a couple of new techniques to add to your cooking skills can give you the opportunity for lots of vegetable volume increase and variety. If you don’t do stir-fry already, give it a try. Many vegetables lend themselves very well to stir-fried meals.  If you’re in a big hurry, you can even use frozen veggies that are already cleaned and chopped.  I enjoy my giant wok, but you can use a skillet too.
  • Vegetable soup is a great way to use up vegetables. Minestrone is a nice complete meal.
  • When you’re first moving toward increasing veggies and fruit, it may be helpful to think of a day as: a stir-fry day; a soup day; a salad day; or your family’s favorite vegetable recipe day. The idea is that you do it on a regular basis and months don’t pass by without these items on the family menu.
  • You may want to look at our past blog pieces for adding vegetables (7 pages of ideas).

The most important piece of information is to keep on keeping on.  Commit to the journey of increasing fruit and vegetables in your diet; realize that it is a process. If one idea is not a resounding success, then the next idea you try may be a success. If you keep a record in a cooking journal, pretty soon you have a collection of ideas that work for you and your family. You’re right, the news about the new fruit and vegetable study is not a colossal shocker, but it is compelling.  At least it says that the effect is cumulative – the more servings of veggies and fruit, the lower the death rate from all causes.  The human body just works better and better the more the diet becomes plant-based and less processed.  So with some tenacity, effort and commitment you and your family can reap impressive benefits for your efforts.