Go for seven. Seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And put the emphasis on vegetables to reduce your risk of dying from heart attack, stroke or cancer.
You've heard it before, eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to better health. Eating plenty of produce has been tied to a lower risk of high blood pressure, cataract, macular degeneration, cognitive decline and digestive tract cancers.
Now, a new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health discovered, after analyzing the diet and lifestyle habits of 65,226 adults, that participants who ate at least seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day were one-third less likely to die from heart attack, stroke or cancer than their peers who ate less than one serving.
Fruit and vegetables contain a protective mix of vitamins, minerals, fibre and hundreds and hundreds of phytochemicals that dampen inflammation, fend off free radicals and boost immunity.
But you can't only reach for the fruit bowl. The findings revealed vegetables were more protective than fruit when it came to living longer – and eating more frozen and tinned fruit actually increased the risk of heart and cancer deaths (perhaps due to added sugars).
According to Statistics Canada, only one in four Canadians aged 12 and older eats a minimum of five fruit and vegetables servings each day. One serving is equivalent to one medium-sized fruit, ½ cup chopped fruit or berries, ¼ cup dried fruit, ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables, one cup of salad greens or ½ cup 100 per cent vegetable or fruit juice. (Limit intake of fruit juice to one serving per day.)
I'm not asking you to overhaul your diet. But you may be able to sneak a few more vegetables and fruit to your daily diet. More homework: Keep track. You're more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables if you write down how many servings you get each day. Here are 10 ways to beef up your vegetable and fruit intake.
Prep it ahead
To speed up mealtime, prep vegetables as soon as you get them home. Wash and spin lettuce, then wrap in a damp paper towel and store in a sealed plastic bag. Wash and chop broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers and zucchini; refrigerate in plastic or glass containers. Grate carrot, raw beets and cabbage in advance so vegetables are ready to add to stir-fries, salads, sandwiches and veggie platters. Grill peppers, eggplant and red onion on the weekend for quick weekday meals. Steam, then purée leafy greens (add a little water to thin) in advance. Freeze in ice cube trays for a quick smoothie boost. (Cooked greens deliver more minerals and antioxidants than raw.)
Sip a green smoothie
It's an efficient and fast way to get both fruit and vegetables in one meal or snack. For two generous servings: 2 cups leafy greens and 3 cups chopped fruit plus 2 cups of milk or plant-based beverage. (Blend greens with liquid first, then add fruit.) Sweeten with stevia or a teaspoon of honey or agave syrup.
Tasty combos: spinach and orange (peeled); Swiss chard and mango; carrot, spinach and banana; kale and mixed berries; peach and bok choy.
Other nutrient-rich additions: pumpkin puree (no sugar added), sweet potato (cooked), beets (cooked), 100 per cent carrot juice and avocado.
Add chopped kale, baby spinach, grated carrot and zucchini and chopped red pepper to homemade or store-bought soups, chili and pasta sauces. Top a pizza with roasted vegetables or garnish with baby arugula.
Roast for more flavour
If you're not a vegetable lover, you might be won over by the sweet, caramelized taste of roasted vegetables. My faves: Brussels sprouts (hands down), cauliflower and carrots. Toss with olive oil, crushed garlic and a dash of sea salt and pepper, then roast in a hot oven (400 to 450 F) until tender.
Top hot or cold cereal with berries, chopped fruit or raisins. Add banana slices to nut butter on toast. Include baby greens, sliced mushrooms and chopped bell pepper in egg dishes. Mix puréed sweet potato into pancake, waffle and muffin batters.
Add shredded cabbage, grated carrot and/or baby greens to sandwiches and wraps. Mix diced apple, crushed pineapple or raisins into chicken, tuna and salmon salads. Include one cup (2 servings!) of raw vegetables in brown-bag lunches – cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, cucumber slices and broccoli florets work well. Instead of a juice box, pack fresh fruit, whole strawberries or single serving of unsweetened applesauce in school lunches.
Forget the snack bar. Dip raw vegetables into hummus or tzatziki or apple and pear slices into Greek yogurt. Snack on oven-baked kale chips.
Instead of settling for half a cup of broccoli or blueberries, double your portion size to get two servings.
Don't overlook frozen
When buying out-of-season, frozen produce can be higher in nutrients than fresh because it's flash-frozen right after picking. Another bonus: no washing and chopping required.