This is the fifth in North Raleigh Fitness’, 7-week journey to “Stop Dieting.” By now you are drinking more water, have an empty pantry, are documenting what you eat, measuring your portions, and have mastered your local super market.
If you missed any of the previous weeks you can go back and catch up:
- Week 1, “Drinking More Water,”
- Week 2 , “Clean out your pantry and refrigerator
- Week 3, “Document What You Eat – And Watch Your Portions”
- Week 4, “The Grocery Store: Go prepared, shop the perimeter, don’t go hungry, and read the nutrition labels”
Week 5 – Eat More Fruits & Vegetables
Now that you have that cartfull of produce it’s time to enjoy it. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that are essential for good health. Really no other change will have a bigger impact on your overall health.
Let’s start with a little trivia. A Vegetable is actually just the edible part of the plant: roots/tubers, stems, leaves, etc. A fruit is the seed-containing part of a plant (actually the ovary of the plant). Most fruits are sweet to the taste but not all, and we often confuse fruits and vegetables. In fact, the list below may surprise you:
Coffee (Yes that’s right caffeine lovers, the coffee bean is actually a fruit.)
Don’t Be Dense (unless you are a vegetable)
One of the great things about vegetables is they are nutrient dense. They have a high water and fiber content so they’re low in calories relative to their volume. In fact, as we have discussed before, vegetables almost do not count toward your daily calorie counts. Consuming them on a regular basis can result in a higher volume of food intake and a high consumption of low calorie density foods can help to control food intake and better manage your body weight.
Want to lose weight? Think about where your calories come from.
Most of us eat between three to five pounds of food per day. This can be four pounds of celery or it can be four pounds of candy bars. It’s not the food or calorie content that matters. It’s the volume that counts. Obviously, there are some big nutrient differences between celery and candy bars, right?
Here are some extreme examples:
- 4 pounds of raw veggies will provide 400 calories
- 4 pounds of raw fruits will provide 1000 calories
- 4 pounds of cooked whole grains/legumes provides 1600 calories
- 4 pounds of nuts/seeds provides about 10,000 calories
- 4 pounds of Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, Cheese provides about 10,000 calories
Extrapolate this out to a less extreme, real world average diet. Most people in the U.S. are consuming (on average) the following amounts of food each day:
2.0 pounds of meat, dairy and eggs
1.5 pounds fruits and veggies
0.5 pound grains
0.5 pounds added sugars, fats and oils
= 4.5 pounds = about 3,700 calories per day
What if we switched this around?
2.5 pounds of fruits and veggies
1.0 pounds of grains and legumes
0.3 pounds nuts/seeds
0.3 pounds meat, dairy and eggs
0.1 pounds added sugars, fats and oils
= 4.2 pounds = about 2,075 calories per day
Use this exercise with your typical diet. You don’t have to weigh everything but estimate and you’ll get an idea where you are and what you are eating. If you struggle with body fat tend you probably tend to fill up on calorically dense, processed foods. This means extra body fat. Eating four pounds of real food like fruits and vegetables gets us lots of nutrition with a calorie count that our body can handle.
And it’s good for you too
That is just the effect a good selection of fruits and vegetables can have on your weight and fat loss efforts. The REAL benefit comes with all the amazing nutrients you are feeding your body which help you feel better and live longer. Fruits and vegetables are alkaline producing, which can help to preserve bone mass and muscle tissue. They are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. They contain lots of water to help you stay hydrated. Most of all a regular diet of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower incidence of:
High blood cholesterol
High blood pressure
Type 2 diabetes
The colors in our fruits and vegetables actually tell a story as well. Each color (and you need them all) offers insight into the phytonutrients they provide. The chart below from Precision Nutrition provides a great view on what colors you need to eat to help you be healthy. You can download this free Cheat Sheet, print it out, and stick it on your fridge. It’ll help you track how many servings of each color you’re getting every day.
It’s really simple to eat more fruits and veggies. Target 5-9 servings daily. Sounds like a lot, but if you are eating 4-6 meals/snacks a day, it’s really just a serving to a serving and a half per meal. Blueberries for breakfast, some carrot sticks for a snack, couple servings of vegetables in your salad for lunch, an apple in the afternoon, and a side salad and some cooked vegetables for dinner and you are well on your way. Nothing to it.
One caution: be careful with your salads. Heaping on several metric tons of dressing will add fat and sugars that you just don’t need. Opt instead for healthy oils like olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Olive oil is full of healthy fats and vinegar has additional phytonutrients and also gives the added boost of being a fat burner. Low sodium salsa also makes a great topping for your salad, just read the label to be sure it’s not loaded with sugar and salt. And while we are at it, limit the butter of your corn or asparagus. Learn to enjoy the taste of your vegetables naturally or with healthy oils. It may take some time, but most are quite appetizing one your taste buds adjust.
I hope this has been a refresher for you on how important fruits and vegetables are in your diet. It’s not just that they help you lose weight, fight hunger, and make you feel better. They fight disease and are nature’s ultimate preventative health care. And they taste good. So be sure to get them on your plate every day, every meal.