The kids are back in school, and the Georgia National Fair is right around the corner. The last thing on many of our minds right now is healthy eating and physical activity. However, September is a perfect time to focus on incorporating more nutritious foods in your diet because it is Fruits and Veggies: More Matters Month.
We have all been told at least once in our lives to eat our fruits and vegetables, but why are fruits and vegetables so important?
Many fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and are good sources of vitamins and minerals that we need to help us grow and to keep our bodies functioning optimally. The vitamins found in greatest abundance in fruits and vegetables include vitamins A, C and K.
Fruits and vegetables are also excellent sources of fiber. Fiber keeps us feeling full and helps us maintain a healthy and happy digestive system. Perhaps most importantly, the Food and Drug Administration and other scientific bodies have recognized fruits and vegetables as foods that may reduce the risk of certain diseases, including some cancers, heart disease and hypertension.
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that children between 2 and 8 years of age include 1-1½ cups of vegetables and 1-1½ cups of fruit in their diet each day. Girls and boys 9-18 years of age should aim for 2-3 cups of vegetables and 1½-2 cups of fruit in their diet each day based on their age and activity level. Adults should consume 1½-2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables each day.
To facilitate incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet, the United States Department of Agricultures My Plate nutrition guidelines remind us to simply make half of our plate fruits and vegetables at every meal. Some easy ways to achieve this goal are to:
Eat a baked potato stuffed with broccoli and lowfat cheese at lunch
Have vegetable or fruit kabobs with yogurt dip as a snack
Create a pineapple or mango salsa to serve with pork, chicken, or other meat dishes
Make a healthy slaw using broccoli and/or cabbage along with apples or citrus fruits
Substitute beans or peas for part of the meat in tacos, meat loaves, chilis, soups and stir fries.
When shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, select shiny, clean produce that is free of bruises to ensure that you are purchasing both safe and nutritious items. If you purchase fruit juice, be sure to get 100 percent fruit juice, so you can get the most nutrients for your money. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables can also be healthy choices if they are not packed in heavy sugar syrups or salty juices.
Fruits and vegetables are inexpensive, versatile and healthy foods that your entire family can enjoy. So, the next time you are searching for a quick snack or accompaniment to a meal, remember to include some fruits and vegetables and make half your plate fruits and veggies.
Rebecca Creasy is the Houston County Extension agent for food and nutrition and family and consumer sciences. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.