Vegetables and fruits are among the healthiest choices you can make on a daily basis yet many, many people have a hard time getting enough servings per day.
Sometimes it takes a little misdirection or fooling ourselves into getting these precious nutrient dense foods in our daily diets.
If you are the type of person who has only eaten broccoli as their primary vegetable for the past 20 years - this post is definitely for you!
Today I will go over why it’s important to get enough vegetables and fruits, how much you should really be eating, and how you can easily implement more vegetables and fruits without putting too much thought into it!
What’s so special about vegetables and fruits?
Vegetables and fruits are food sources that we all know are healthy yet many people have aversions surrounding these foods.
Often these foods are seen as bland (specifically vegetables) or just not as appetizing as foods higher in fat, salt, and sugar!
This does make sense evolutionary; our bodies crave foods that have a higher caloric density because of our ancestral brains. In the paleolithic age, food was not available at every street corner, or just 2 clicks away from winding up at your doorstep.
We do not live in the same world that our brains were built for. Therefore, it becomes extremely hard to “convince” your brain that vegetables and fruits should be sought out for and eaten on a regular basis.
So then - why are vegetables and fruits so important if our brains don’t even want them?
Well, for starters vegetables and fruits provide numerous vitamins and minerals that can’t be found as readily in meat or other food products.
Plant foods are high in vitamins and minerals such as:
Vitamins A, C and E
These vitamins are important when it comes to immune system response. A stronger immune system will help keep you safe from common colds.
These vitamins also are antioxidants which help to curtail cell damage. Less Inflammation has also been linked to higher amounts of vegetables and fruits.
Equally, if not more important to the above nutrients is the micronutrient Fiber.
For example the amount of fiber found in vegetables far surpasses that of any animal protein, candy bar, or processed cereal!
Fibrous foods are great on 2 accounts
They take up more space in your stomach as well as taking longer to break down (keeping you fuller for longer)
They allow for normal bowel movements keeping your colon and digestive processes in their tip top working order (for a deeper dive into poop, check out this blog!)
If you are looking to lose weight - vegetables and fruits have significantly less calories.
Weight loss almost always comes down to energy balance and the power of eating your greens can’t be overstated. 3 big benefits to weight loss and eating veggies and fruits are:
Vegetables and fruits are lower in calories
You will feel more satiated (so you don’t need to eat more food),
You will have better outcomes when it comes to staying healthy and staving off infection (which keeps you feeling good, in an energetic flow).
Momma was right when she said to eat your greens…
Lastly we evolved with vegetables and fruits by our side. Whole foods are always “better” for us because they have come from the earth and grown within the soil that we walk on.
You could imagine that nature has given us all that we need to thrive and be healthy. Stick to the foods that come from the earth instead of factory made super palatable foods that many of us get caught up eating. (looking at you delish cake and cookies!)
How many servings “should” you be eating each day?
Okay so now that you know how much vegetables and fruits can do for you - let’s talk about how much you should be aiming for.
This is a bit of a tough question to answer because I approach this question with my coach hat on rather than paint with a broad stroke.
No matter where you are on your fitness journey, you’ll have experienced a different story when it comes to eating vegetables and fruits.
Just to put it in perspective - as a kid I grew up eating 1 serving of vegetables/fruits per day. Normally this vegetable would be for dinner and usually, it was broccoli.
As I got older and started cooking my own food - I recognized how little vegetables I ate.
For me at the time - just adding 1 vegetable in my breakfast was enough for me to feel like I was making progress.
Now I’m probably eating at least 5-6 servings every single day (which has been built up over a few years!)
So I bring the attention back to yourself - what would it look like to add one extra serving of vegetables/fruit to your day?
Do you think this is possible?
What habits would you need to start doing in order to succeed at this?
Now this might not be the answer you were looking for - but really everyone is their own unique snowflake with their own histories, perceptions, likes, and dislikes. To put a blanket statement on everyone would go against my coaching.
Let me just state that this is a generalized serving that is recommended by health sciences as well as my individual coaching. A recommendation doesn’t mean that this is the only way to be healthy, however it might point towards the direction of having ideal health. (which many people may not want or might not be able to achieve).
What I would recommend in an ideal world is to eat about 6-8 servings of vegetables per day (for men) and 4-6 servings of vegetables per day (for women).
One serving size would be equal to one closed fist, or about one cup.
For fruit intake : Recommended to eat about 2-3 cupped hands for men, and 1-2 cupped hands for women.
I love using the hand portion guide to make quick adjustments to portion size. No need to weigh anything here - just make sure that the amount of vegetables you have on your plate comes out to 1 closed fist, and you’ll know that this is a proper serving of vegetables.
So I ask you, how many fists of vegetables are you eating per day?
Tricks to getting in more vegetables and fruits
Okay so you are reading this and thinking “damn, I only eat 2 fists of veggies and 1 cupped hand of fruits per day, how can I increase this?”
Fear not friend! I am here to help give you some ideas and tricks on how you can increase your intake.
First thing’s first however - if you don’t like the taste of something...you won’t eat it.
Plain and simple. So therefore we need to go over 2 important things before diving into some tricks and tips.
It takes at least 3 attempts of eating a new food for your taste buds to adjust. What this means is if you attempt to add a new vegetable into your diet one time and you wind up not liking it - you might miss out on an opportunity to become more accustomed to the taste.
Who knows - that food that you first want to spit out might become a food that you love adding to your meals for the rest of your life!
Don’t let one bad experience spoil the chance of longevity with this new vegetable or fruit.
Secondly, preparing vegetables and fruits differently might drastically increase the likelihood of you first trying it, and then enjoying it.
For example it might be beneficial for you to first add butter to a veggie just so you start getting familiar with the taste.
Over time, you will find that you won't even need the butter (I know this because I did this!)
Again if you are able to find something that is enjoyable you have now found a new staple to add to your normal daily intake.
7 tricks to getting in more vegetables and fruits easily!
#1 : Use steamable frozen vegetables
Sometimes the day gets away from us and we aren’t quite prepped or even have the desire to make a full dinner meal. On these occasions it’s easy to focus on just getting protein and carb into your meal.
However it’s so simple to pop in a steamable bag of veggies into the microwave, heat it up for 6 minutes and have a nutritious side to your meal.
There’s no excuse here that you “don’t have the time” to prep vegetables.
Frozen vegetables provide the most nutrient density, even more than fresh veggies. This is because they are frozen at their peak nutrient dense point and therefore allow you to reap the benefit of having a fresh vegetable.
Some may say that using the frozen veggies is quite bland. If that’s the case - just season it up with some salt and pepper and that might be enough to make a difference in how you enjoy this easy to make side!
#2 : Make a shake
This is another trick for those with limited time and energy to create 5 star meals.
Take any blender and start throwing some veggies and fruits in there to make getting more servings in that much easier.
A shake can take the place of a meal as long as it is packed with all the vital parts of a meal. For example you can try this recipe for a delish shake!
Add 4-8 oz. of liquid (water, almond milk, cow’s milk, soy meal, iced green tea)
Pick a protein powder and add 1-2 scoops (whey protein, casein protein, pea protein)
Pick a veggie and add 1-2 handfuls (spinach, kale, beets, cucumber, sweet potato)
Pick 1-2 handfuls of fresh or frozen fruit (apples, bananas, berries, cherries, dates, pineapple)
Pick a healthy fat and add 1-2 thumbs worth (walnuts, flax, cashews, almonds, peanut and nut butters)
When you add a veggie like spinach into your shake, it more often than not becomes unrecognizable and you won’t even notice you're eating spinach! Talk about an easy way to get more veggies in, you can potentially increase yourself to eating 2 extra servings of veggies just by “hiding” it within a shake.
#3 : Make an omelet with packed veggies
By far this is my favorite way to get more veggies into my day. I am a huge fan of eggs and will make a scramble almost every single day. In this scramble I’ll chop up at least 3 servings of veggies that consist of a combination of onions, peppers, spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms.
The nice thing about this is the fact that you can pump up the veggie intake while still enjoying the taste of a scrambled egg.
This option might not be fit for those who haven’t expanded their veggie palette, however you can take small steps forward by just adding 1 extra veggie into an egg dish. Over time you’ll find that you don’t even notice the taste or even look forward to adding those precious greens!
#4 : Make a veggie filled soup
Going off the heels of tip #3 - if you are a fan of making soups this might be the key to getting more veggies into your daily intake.
Soups can be a great way to increase your intake because those veggies are now swimming in a yummy broth. The added crunch from celery can be a welcomed guest in your comfort soup dish.
This is a great way for those who love soups to level up their dish and increase 1-2 servings of veggies for the day!
Bonus points if you make a big pot of soup and have it for leftovers for a few days!
Remember that making these things easy is key so that it can be done even during times that you feel low energy and don’t want to put on that stove!
#5 : Keep a fruit bowl on the kitchen table
Your environment impacts the choices you make. By putting out a fruit bowl for all to see - you are going to increase the chances that you and your family will reach for a fruit for a snack.
Think about it: you come home and are tired from work and know that dinner is not yet made. You want something small and usually open the pantry to munch on some pretzels.
Instead - if you have a bowl of fruit with some of your favorites sitting in there, you’ll be more likely to grab a fruit to hold you over until dinner is ready.
Also, having this out in the open will probably prevent you from letting those foods go to waste because you’ll clearly see those mushy fruits rotting away!
#6: Make stuffed bell peppers
Who doesn’t love a packed nutritious dinner that is convenient to transport and eat?
Stuffed bell peppers are a great way to add foods such as ground turkey, rice, cauliflower rice, cheese, onions, spinach...the world is your oyster with this!
Simply cut out the core of the pepper and start adding in your goodies. Not only can you add in veggies inside the pepper, but you’ll end up eating the pepper itself.
That’s double the win when it comes to increasing veggie intake!
#7 : Try out zoodles!
Veggie based noodles are really easy to make as all you need is a spiralizer (or you can purchase already cut up veggies at the store).
Zucchini is probably the most common veggie to do this with however you can use carrots, spaghetti squash, and sweet potatoes.
By creating a noodle version of veggies you can substitute these for your typical pasta dish while continuing to have the same food experience.
Now I know that pasta and zoodles won’t taste the same, however it is an easy way to fool yourself and to add extra vegetables to typical dishes that you would make with pasta!
Focus on how you feel
No matter if you chose any of the above tips and tricks to increase your vegetable and fruit intake, be aware of how food makes you feel.
And what I mean by this is the following: after you eat a meal it’s helpful to do an internal check and see how you feel.
Are you feeling light?
Are you feeling bloated?
Are you feeling energized?
Are you feeling lethargic?
Are you getting some weird pain in a joint?
Do you feel you can get up and move freely without getting a stomach ache?
Vegetables and fruits are natural forms of energy for us. When we can connect back to nature and back to how we evolved, you might start to connect the dots as to why eating this way is important.
If feeling bloated is a feeling you really enjoy - then keep eating those meals high in fat, sugar, and salt.
However I think for most people, we want to feel light in our stomach but energized in our movement. Eating those foods that are grown from the earth are solid ways to have more of this feeling.
And that’s the important part - to find that feeling you are looking for.
I think of it like this: I feel connected to nature and to the earth when I eat foods that I can grow in the backyard. There’s something to be said about feeling the bond to the land you live on.
The side bonus of eating this way is this: You’ll probably lose weight and feel better in your skin. That’s a pretty good bonus to treating your body in the way that it should be treated...Fueling it with colorful vegetables and delicious fruit!