Fruit and vegetables, some of the most fiber, mineral, phytonutrients, antioxidant and vitamin – rich foods we have accessible to us, are sorely lacking in modern culinary culture. The naturopathic recommendation for fruits and veggies ranges from 7 to 10 servings a day for adults, the vast majority of which should be from vegetables.
The Fruit & Veggie Challenge is meant to provide tips, tricks and inspiration for us to slowly work towards getting more fresh veggies into our daily lives, without adding stress to our already full days. Eating well should be fun, not anxiety-provoking, and it is possible with some slight lifestyle adjustments.
What can vegetables (and fruits) do for you; Why make an effort to get more servings?
Good vegetables and fruits grown in good soil are full of enzymes, minerals and vitamins in forms that our body is best able to use, assuming good digestion and are preferable to supplements when possible. The fiber vegetables provide combat diarrhea and constipation, nourish our gut flora (that affect our immune system, mental health, weight, etc), and positively regulate appetite. Soluble, digested fibers improve blood sugar response & blood lipid profiles (cholesterol), and regulate the pH of the intestines. Vegetables and fruits are perfect plant sources of phytonutrients and antioxidants that research is beginning to show when ingested in whole complex plant form, have very beneficial effects on our overall health, from affecting our immune system and hormonal activity. Fruit and vegetable intake is correlated with reduced rates of chronic disease such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Fruits & veggies are some of the most powerful dietary tools we have to achieve good health. They are the original medicines from which botanical preparations and many pharmaceuticals have been derived.
Lastly, whole foods grown in the earth, free from processing and packaging, are nature’s gift to us. Simply handling good, fresh foods is energetically nourishing. Cultures that evolved around growing and preparing foods in social settings have lower rates of heart disease and remain more resilient to the effects of daily stress.
What is a serving of fruit or vegetables?
A serving is usually considered 1/2 cup of chopped raw fruits of veggies, 1 cup of leafy greens, 1/2 cup of vegetable juice, or a medium-sized piece of fruit or vegetable.
How should I prepare/eat my fruits & vegetables for maximum benefit?
As a general recommendation for healthy adults, diets should include both raw and cooked versions of vegetables, and when applicable, fruit. According to Traditional Chinese Medicinal theory, Fall and Winter months are meant for a focus on well-cooked foods, whereas Spring and Summer are meant to feature more raw fruits and vegetables, to coincide with the seasonally cyclical nature of our digestive system and metabolism.
Raw vegetables are generally more difficult to digest, and if eaten in high amounts too frequently can cause digestive upset. Different vitamins and enzymes are activated or inactivated in raw vs. cooked foods (i.e. the phytonutrient lycopene is higher in cooked tomato, but cooking may reduce vitamin C, while cruciferous vegtables like broccoli and cauliflower have an effect on the thyroid when in raw forms but not in cooked forms). For these reasons, having a variety of the type of fruit and vegetables we eat, as well as aiming for a variety of the form in which we eat them (raw vs. cooked) is important across the overall diet. Lightly steaming or sauteeing vegetables can often act as a compromise between raw and cooked. Of course some vegetables require cooking, potatoes for instance.
Note: If you have any medical conditions (such as thyroid conditions, diabetes, etc), consulting a healthcare professional trained in giving dietary advice, such as a naturopathic doctor, is advised. Although diet seems like a simple remedy, it can affect the body in powerful ways and should be counseled appropriately.
Why should I be getting more vegetables than fruits?
Fruit is a wonderful source of phytochemicals, fiber and nutrients such as Vitamin C, but it also comes with a higher sugar content than vegetables do. This is a big reason people prefer to load up on fruit over vegetables; fruit speaks to our collective sweet craving.
Fruit intake is ideally 2-3 servings per day, and dried fruit snacks should be considered a very potent source of sugar. While naturally occurring fruit sugars are healthy, they must be taken in, in moderation.
The fruit content of sugar, despite the source of the sugar, still has an effect on our insulin response and can play a role in stubborn weight loss, fatigue, energy crashes, mood changes, etc. I recommend fruit be taken in with a meal, i.e. as the perfect dessert (enzymes can aid digestion after a meal), or at the very least, with a good serving of protein to regulate our blood sugar response.
The glycemic load (GL) of a fruit refers to how much digestible carbohydrate it contains and the glycemic index (GI) of a fruit refers to how fast it is absorbed and affects our blood sugar. Regularly choosing fruits that have a combined lower score of GI and GL is advised. That said, getting a variety of fruit into the diet (i.e. not always eating apples), especially throughout the summer months, brings a wider array of nutrients and joy to the table, and is also advised. Local fruits that can be picked fresh and made into baked goods, jams, smoothies, desserts, salads and snacks, are a good resource to look into.
How important is organic and what should I know about buying & preparing organic vs. non-organic fruits and veggies?
The bottom line is that choosing organic produce, when possible, is important. As demand for organic fruits and vegetables rise, prices will come down. Farmer’s markets remain one of the cheapest places to access local, organic food, though they are not always available depending on where you reside.
The more important fruits and vegetables to choose organic remain The Dirty Dozen (though quaintly named, sometimes the list changes to 14 or 15 foods). Oppositely, The Clean Fifteen food list refers to the fruits and veggies least contaminated by pesticides that many be eaten conventionally. The best places to get updates on these foods remains The Environmental Working Group, who releases annual updates on the consumer’s guide to pesticide exposure in food.
For all fruits and veggies, bringing them home to a good wash with water and white vinegar is a must. If the peel is edible, it is advised to consume it (i.e. apples, carrots, etc) so these are good foods to choose organic and give a good wash to before consuming.
Fruit & Veggie Wall of Inspiration
Simple Tips For Adding Veggies To Your Life
Tip #1: Make A Juice (you don’t need a juicer!)
Blend any high-fiber veggies in a high-powered blender and strain the pulp (i.e. wheat grass, herbs, etc). Then dump in your softer veggies and fruit to add good fiber and blend again. Strain as often as you like for the desired consistency but know, the thicker, the more fiber! Great way to get good nutrients in an efficient way that is easy on the digestive system.
Good veggies to juice via blender: kale, cucumber, spinach, carrot, ginger, parsely, cilantro, wheatgrass, other leafy greens, etc
Tip #2: Add Veggies to Your Protein Smoothies!
2 handfuls of spinach thrown into a protein smoothie are almost undetectable by taste and this simple tip gets you 2 servings closer to your daily recommended intake of vegetables without changing your routine at all.
Tip #3: Prep Your Fridge for a Veggie-Heavy Couple of Days
Grocery shop –> unpack –> wash fruits and veg –> prep into easy to use forms (chop, shred, or leave whole) –> store in glass containers in fridge –> use as needed throughout the week or until you run out (try not to eat out until you are done your perishable vegetables). This reduces the phenomena of buying a ton of great veggies and then just letting them rot in your fridge untouched week after week AND makes using them easy and quick.
*Compost your cut veggie ends and unused peels*
Tip #4: Use Simple Foods to Make Easy, But Good-Looking Meals
Simply having hummus, dips, fresh dressings on hand can easily dress up a whole ton of vegetables in an appetizing way. Adding herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro and basil adds to taste and texture. Experiment and have fun. With veggie prep done on grocery day, and a whole container of hummus or something akin to it in the fridge, dinner assembly can become a 5 – 10 minutes affair. Below is pictured turkey burgers with store bought hummus and a whole bunch of leftover veggies that needed eating. Great meal that took 10 minutes to make (cooking the burgers)!
Tip #5: Just Keeping Adding Veggies To Your Plate!
This old fashioned notion of 1 protein, 1 carb, 1 veggie portion is outdated, and that is okay. Veggies can be in every part of what you make, from your salads to marinades, to dips and sauces. Cooked, raw and somewhere in between; get them all in there!
Tabouleh salad and avocado hummus picture below showcase veggies and starches pairing well together. Herbed chicken topped with extra cilantro adds even more green to the meal.
Tip #6: Take It To -Go!
Long gone are the days where you open your lunch to find cut carrots and celery as your only veggie options outside the home. Pack veggies to go in all forms, from juices to salads, to soups and sauces, plus the carrots and celery 🙂
Pictured below; keep your recycled glass containers with lids for a cheap, reusable way to transport your veg dishes (especially nice for juices!) So easy to clean.
Tip #7: Make Veggies Tasty and Trendy
Variety is the spice of life, and casting aside the idea that getting a serving of vegetables means sauteeing a routine blend of frozen carrots, peas and cauliflower will make you more excited about getting your veggies in. Modernize your veggie mindset!
Follow some vegetarian or vegan food creators on Instagram and Twitter. Keep a Pinterest board with health veg recipes (i.e. not the ones slathered in cheese and cream). Look up raw food chefs and follow their work. Find innovative food blogs and start re-creating their masterpieces. These visually inspiring works will pique your interest, and once you get started, you won’t want to stop (plus you’ll be feeling amazing, just an added bonus). Let yourself be inspired….(it makes everything more fun).
Oh She Glows and The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen/Nourishing Meals are two I followed when I began.
Tip #8: Don’t Play The Self-Blame-Game or Add Stress To Your Plate
Adding colour, nutrients and health to your life via fruits and vegetables shouldn’t add more stress. A change to your routine at the outset will be a challenge, but go slow with yourself and let yourself off the hook of any expectations you may have. If cooking for your family, the challenge may be bigger, but you can even begin by making a simple veg juice for yourself in your down time. This challenge isn’t meant to add pressure to your life; there is far too much of that already. It is meant to add nourishment. So carve out some time when you can and try to see grocery shopping and meal preparation with a fresh perspective; the act of each can be healing in itself, rather than a chore between other errands. This is a lifestyle adjustment and it takes time to build new skills and new habits. You’re on a journey 🙂