Food & Fitness After 50: Are you eating enough fruits & veggies?

Plate faceAre you eating enough fruits & veggies? Probably not, according to a new report from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention on fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S. 

Most of us know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, offering protection against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even some cancers. Yet, only 12% of adults meet the recommended fruit intake (1.5-2 cups/day) and we do even worse with veggies; 9% get the suggested amount (2.5-3.5 cups.day).

Why are our eating habits so dismal when it comes to eating the good stuff? Many of us perceive that cooking and preparation is time consuming and difficult, so unless we slice a banana on our cereal or eat a serving of veggies with dinner, we don’t make much of an effort.

Many of you know that I don’t develop recipes like a lot of my dietitian friends. I’m more likely to assemble meals. So here are my ideas for getting more fruits and veggies into your meals. And, I welcome your ideas that might help others sneak in an extra serving or two (or three) of produce.

  • Never eat cereal, either hot or cold, without adding fresh or frozen berries.
  • Toss spinach and peppers into scrambled eggs or omelets.
  • Use fruit that is starting to get overripe in smoothies. Toss in fruit, add plain or vanilla Greek yogurt or milk and blend.
  • Salsa is a vegetable and is not just for tortilla chips. Add salsa to a baked potato, grilled fish or chicken, or on top of scrambled eggs.
  • Make protein-rich salads with canned black, kidney, or other starch beans or peas. Drain your favorite beans, add diced tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro and toss with a little oil and vinegar or Italian bottled salad dressing.
  • When you can’t get fresh veggies or fruits, don’t overlook frozen or canned. Today’s processing takes produce at it’s peak of ripeness and freezes or cans it quickly to preserve nutrients and taste.
  • Veggies - CopyTry a meatless pasta primavera
    • Saute broccoli, green, red, or yellow peppers, and onions in olive oil and serve over protein-enriched pasta (Barilla Protein-Plus Angel Hair pasta is my favorite); drizzle with olive oil and top with shaved Parmesan cheese.
  • Roast vegetables in the oven
    • Cut up broccoli, cauliflower, or use whole fresh Brussels sprouts and spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and shake the pan or use tongs to flip the pieces and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. And, you can also try this on the grill.Grilled Brussels Sprouts
  • Grill fruit this summer
    • Thread watermelon cubes and shrimp on metal or wooden skewers; brush lightly with canola oil and grill for a few minutes on each side (grilling brings out a sweet, smoky taste to fruit).
    • Grill peaches by cutting a fresh peach in half, removing the pit, and brush lightly with canola oil. Place cut-side down on grill for a few minutes until lightly charred. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or goat cheese.
  • Break out the wok, or a large frying pan 
    • Heat oil (I like to use peanut oil in the wok, it has a high smoke point so withstands the high temperatures for wok cooking) and toss in cut up pieces of chicken, cook until the chicken turns white and remove. Toss in all the bits and pieces of veggies in your vegetable bin. I like broccoli, carrots, celery, summer squash, onions, and peppers. Saute until cooked, but still crunchy, and add the chicken back into the pan. Season with chili paste to give it some kick, or reduced sodium soy sauce (or both!). Serve over brown rice.
  •  Bring veggies to summer parties
    • One of my favorites is caprese salad on a stick. Thread cherry or grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella pearls, and fresh basil leaves on a skewer. Drizzle with olive oil (I like Tuscan-herb infused olive oil for this appetizer) and you have a tasty, healthy, colorful dish. (You can find mozzarella pearls in the “fancy” cheese section of grocery stores and Walmart).
    • Steam edamame (immature soybeans in the pods) and lightly salt. Serve in the pods with small dish of soy sauce. Kids love to squeeze the beans out of the pod and into their mouths!
  • Let the kids help Hannah helps with Thanksgiving
    • Kids are more likely to eat fruits and veggies if they have a hand in the preparation. A few years ago my great niece, Hannah, helped me make this “turkey” veggie tray for Thanksgiving. She was so proud of the creation and she couldn’t wait to serve it to the family, and eat some veggies herself. Pinterest is great for easy ideas like this one.
  • Visit Fruits and Veggies More Matters for hundreds of other great ideas and everything you could ever want to know about fruits and veggies.

For more ideas on how to get more fruits and vegetables in your diet, see Food & Fitness After 50.

How do you choose your vitamin/mineral supplements?

ConsumerLab.com posted survey results about popular supplements. While not a “scientific” study in that the respondents were self-selecting (that always introduces bias into a study) it did show some interesting trends about supplement use. The five most popular supplements were fish oil, multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and CoQ10. The first four didn’t surprise me given the media attention to fish oil and vitamin D, but the CoQ10 did…until I thought about the role of CoQ10 in protecting the heart muscle in those older adults who have congestive heart failure. There is also some support for using it when taking a statin to lower cholesterol, although the evidence for that is not as clear.

But, what I really thought about when I saw the survey is how does one choose among the hundreds of supplements on the shelves of grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail stores (there are even whole stores devoted to selling supplements anddon’t even get me started on the Internet sales!)

I offer these tips in choosing supplements:

1)Know what supplements you really need. Ask your doctor or qualified health professional (like a registered dietitian) about what supplements might be best for you. I often find that people supplement with nutrients that are plentiful in their diets yet not taking nutrients that they are lacking. A quick way to evaluate your dietary intake is to go to mypyramid.gov and analyze your usual dietary intake. You might find that you get plenty of vitamin C because you drink orange juice, eat broccoli, and snack on tangerines, yet your intake of omega-3-fats are low because you don’t like to eat fatty fish.

2)Look for third-party verification that you are getting a quality supplement. Ever noticed the “USP” symbol on your supplement? That stands for United States Pharmacopeia and it means that the supplement meets strict criteria for quality ingredients and quality manufacturing processes. ConsumerLab.com is another group that tests supplements to make sure that the supplement contains what it says it contains on its label. Third party verification doesn’t mean that the product will work for you, but it does insure that you are getting what you are paying for and getting a quality product.

3)Take supplements according the dosing instructions and make sure to check sources like WebMD for any nutrient-drug interactions. For example, if you take a blood thinner you don’t want to take a vitamin supplement that has a lot of Vitamin K as it can block the effectiveness of the drug. Also remember that supplements are a supplement to a healthy diet–eating a poor diet and expecting a supplement to keep you healthy is wishful thinking. Supplements take time to work;they are not like an antibiotic that can cure an infection in a few days. For example, glucosamine and chondrotin may help those with osteoarthritis but it can take months to know if it is working.

4)If claims for supplements sound too good to be true then they probably are. Think about how many people say that vitamin C is the cure for the common cold…if that was true, wouldn’t we all just take vitamin C and never suffer through another cold again? So, be realistic about your expectations for supplements.

5)Lastly, look at the various options for supplements. I don’t eat enough fatty fish (the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest eating 2 fatty fish meals a week) so I take fish oil. The first supplement I tried made me taste fish oil all day so I take one that controls that problem.