Although California is the nation's biggest producer of fruit and vegetables, we don't do quite so well in terms of the amount of fresh produce we consume.
Although we're slightly above the national average, only one in eight Californians eat enough to meet the recommended daily intake.
That's disappointing for health experts because they know, las we do too, that fresh fruit and vegetables are among the keys to nutritional health.
So, what can we do about it? Well, as it happens, June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month. And it's probably the time of the year when there's more fresh, home-grown produce in our stores and farm stands that at any other time.
Quite simply National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month is a campaign that aims to encourage us to eat more of these highly-nutritional products, thereby helping our health as well as the nation's growers.
Almost every single piece of fruit or veggie is a storehouse of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. These include:
- Calcium, for strong bones and teeth and to support muscles.
- Fiber, which has been shown to cut the risk of heart disease.
- Folate, which is believed to decrease a woman's risk of having a child with a defective brain or spinal cord.
- Iron, needed to support our blood cells.
- Magnesium to counter high blood pressure as well as strengthening our bones.
- Potassium, again to help control blood pressure.
- Sodium to help blood cell functioning, in place of table salt which drives up blood pressure.
- Vitamin A for healthy eyes and skin.
- Vitamin C for general health especially of our teeth and gums
And don't overlook other important assets of fruits and veggies, For example, broccoli has more protein than steak, and avocados are one of the best sources of healthy fats.
In other words, fresh produce isn't just nice to have. It's essential to our wellbeing.
The American Heart Association (AHA) says: "Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. They provide key nutrients many of us don’t get enough of…"
The Right Amount to Eat
So, what is the right amount to eat? According to the AHA, we should eat four servings of fruit and five servings of veggies every day.
A serving of fruit might be one piece about the size of your fist (a medium apple for example), a half cup of frozen or canned fruit, or a quarter cup of dried fruit, or fruit juice. If you want to stay fresh, eat five servings of fresh fruit.
For vegetables, we're talking about a cup of raw leafy items, or half a cup of fresh, frozen or canned veggies or half a cup of juice.
And if you think there aren't enough different types to meet your taste, it's worth knowing that there are more than 100 different types of fruit and more than 120 vegetable varieties, according to the Better Health Foundation.
That's all very well, you may say, but "how can I eat more fruits and vegetables?"
Here are some ideas from the AHA:
- Pack easy to eat produce in your work or school bag.
- Add frozen peas to rice when it's nearly finished cooking.
- Have a vegetarian meal once a week.
- Add sliced vegetables to a sandwich and to favorite meals and recipes.
- Add a side salad to meals -- at home and it restaurants.
- If you eat yogurt, add some berries.
- Puree fruit and put it into an ice tray to freeze -- instant, nutritious popsicles!
- Substitute fruit for regular desserts.
- Let your kids pick out a new fruit or vegetable at the store.
- Keep a bowl of fruit on your table or countertop as a ready snack.
Why Fresh is Best
One of the good things about eating fresh fruit and vegetables is the reduced intake of sodium (salt) and sugar. If you eat canned products, you'll almost certainly fine these have been added to the contents. You should always check the labels.
Even some frozen products may have these additives. But if you buy fresh, you'll only be eating natural sodium and sugars -- and healthy amounts.
Furthermore, when they're in season, fresh fruit and vegetables are often less costly than their pre-packaged equivalents. And expect to save more if you shop at a local farmers' market. The produce likely will be fresher than store-bought too.
But if you buy fresh, it's also important to keep it fresh, which means storing it appropriately. Ideally, wait until you're ready to eat items before you wash and peel them. Or, if you do prepare them in advance, store them in the refrigerator below 40 degrees.
Items like bananas, citrus, stone fruit and tomatoes can be stored on countertops but out of sunlight. But more fleshy fruits and vegetables belong in the refrigerator, along with mushrooms and leafy greens.
Of course, it's important to buy and eat these products throughout the year, not just during National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. But this month is a great platform for changing your eating habits for better health.
Perhaps you can also mark the campaign with a special event like a vegetarian party (lockdown restrictions permitting) or try a different flavor smoothie every day.
It's also not too late to grow your own. Garden centers, supermarkets and hardware superstores are brimming with them right now. And given our highly favorable weather here in Southern California, it's easy to get them growing and harvest them virtually all year round.
If you're looking for more ideas, you can download a great guide from the American Health Association here: Fruit and Vegetable Guide or by visiting the Better Health Foundation at FruitsAndVeggies.org.
One More Healthy Idea
If you follow a healthy, nutritious diet, you'll almost certainly enjoy better health and maybe even live longer.
But even the fittest of us can face challenges to our health. That's where the protection of health and life insurance comes in.
Sometimes, you might find that being healthier can result on lower insurance premiums or increase the likelihood that you'll be accepted for coverage in the first place.
If staying healthy is part of your lifestyle, so should be staying protected with insurance. If this is something you'd like to discuss, please get in touch with us at Aldrich Taylor.