Healthy Habits: 9 Ways to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Get easy tips to incorporate healthy food choices into your diet. Plus, find out the right amount of fruits and vegetables to eat for your individual needs.
Vegetables and fruits have essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals that work to protect you from a variety of chronic diseases and maintain your digestive health. So how many fruits and vegetables do you need to eat each day for optimal health, and how can you easily incorporate more into your diet?
Add fruits and vegetables to your diet
What Are the Right Amounts for You?
To maintain a healthy body and good digestive health, eat fiber-rich fruits and vegetables in the right amounts for your age, sex, and level of physical activity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now offer guidelines in cups rather than number of servings, as they did previously, so you can better understand portion sizes.
The CDC daily recommends the following amounts of vegetables per day for these age categories:
Girls and women
9 to 132 cups
14 through 502.5 cups
51 and over2 cups
Boys and men
9 to 132.5 cups
14 through 503 cups
51 and over2.5 cups
The recommended amounts of fruit are a bit smaller:
Girls and women
9 to 181.5 cups
19 through 302 cups
31 and over1.5 cups
Boys and men
9 to 131.5 cups
18 and over2 cups
If you’re active for 30 minutes or more each day, you may need to eat more fruits and vegetables than these guidelines indicate because you will be burning more calories. You can use the CDC’s fruits and vegetables calculator to find portion recommendations based on your level of physical activity.
A Cup Here, a Cup There
It’s fairly simple to meet — and exceed — these goals through your daily meals and snacks, says Susan Kraus, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at the Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J.
If you start your day with an 8-ounce glass of fruit juice at home — which is often also the size served at a restaurant — that’s already one full cup of your daily fruit requirement. One piece of whole fruit, like an apple, banana, or pear, counts as one cup, too — perfect for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack.
As for your daily requirement of vegetables, if you’re already eating a cup of vegetables with dinner, it might only take adding a salad to put you over the top — just toss a cup of greens with a one-cup medley of tomatoes, cucumber slices, and red bell pepper rings. Pre-mix a larger amount to keep in the fridge for meals and snacks, suggests Kraus.
Picking the Best Produce
When buying fruits and vegetables, pick yourself a rainbow. “Choosing a rainbow of colors helps to guarantee that you get various types of nutrients, since the various nutrients are what impart color to the fruits and veggies,” explains Kraus. By eating green broccoli and grapes, yellow squash and pineapple, orange carrots and cantaloupe, red apples and strawberries, purple plums and eggplant, and blueberries, you’ll get the widest range of nutrients plus both soluble and insoluble fiber for better digestive health.
9 Ways to Meet Your Needs
Here are nine tips to help meet your daily goals for fruits and vegetables:
1. Try it raw. Not only are raw vegetables good for you, it's typically easier to get children to eat vegetables raw. Try serving vegetables at the start of a meal, when kids are hungriest and less likely to reject them; you can offer them with a low-fat dip to add flavor. Then enjoy some yourself.
2. Eat fiber-filled fruit with breakfast. It's easy to include fruit in the morning. Slice a variety of fruits, like peaches, plums, nectarines, and various berries, to add to cold or cooked cereal or to top French toast, waffles, or pancakes instead of syrup. “If you like yogurt in the morning, make a parfait by layering assorted cut-up fruit with yogurt and a high-fiber cereal,” says Kraus. If you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast, grab a handful of grapes or an apple to take with you.
3. Make your own yogurt toppers. Top low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fresh berries and low-fat or fat-free granola for breakfast.
4. Excite your eggs. Add chopped vegetables like mushrooms and peppers to omelets or egg scrambles.
5. Switch “sides.” Skip the greasy fries and choose corn on the cob, a tossed salad, or a high-fiber bean medley. Or grill a batch of vegetables, such as eggplant, peppers, onions, and mushrooms, or fruits, like pineapple, peaches, bananas, and apples. “They’re good hot or cold,” says Kraus.
6. Add vegetables to pasta. Use olive oil to sauté vegetables of your choice, such as tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, zucchini, and onions, and toss with whole-grain pasta for a delicious pasta primavera.
7. Pick better pizza toppings. Opt for a veggie-topped pizza rather than choosing fatty meat toppings or extra cheese.
8. Dish up the dried fruit. Pack some dried fruit to eat on the run, perhaps mixed with a handful of seeds or nuts. Remember that 1/4 cup of dried fruit equals 1/2 cup of fresh fruit.
9. In a pinch, frozen is fine. Especially in winter months when fresh choices are limited or expensive, try buying a bag of frozen berries or broccoli. “Using frozen fruits and veggies is a great option for out-of-season produce — they’ve been processed within an hour of harvesting, so the flavor and nutritional value are usually well preserved,” says Kraus. If you’re purchasing frozen produce that includes sauce, look for a low-fat, low-calorie option — or better yet, buy frozen produce with no sauce and season it yourself.
With a little ingenuity, you can enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables to keep your diet interesting and healthy every day.
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