Emptier hospitals. Shorter lines at the pharmacy counter. Far fewer of the major diseases that disable and kill millions. If everyone followed the simple and delicious advice of our health experts by eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, the results would be nothing short of miraculous.
The fact is, we humans are designed to eat these foods by the fistful every day. Our bodies are meant to be flooded with a daily deluge of amazing chemicals called antioxidants that protect cells from damage. And we need them now more than ever. Modern life triggers the production of more free radicals in our bodies than ever before - thanks to fried foods (and simply to overeating!), to more pollution, to the fact that we're living longer, and perhaps even to a thinning atmosphere.
Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd number of electrons. They form naturally when we digest food, convert blood sugar into energy, or are exposed to sunlight or pollution. Free radicals destroy cell walls or even worse, DNA itself. The result? Increased cancer risk, cholesterol that's more likely to burrow into artery walls, and damaged cartilage that can't cushion joints properly. Your body uses the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables to neutralize free radicals before they can do harm. Shortchange yourself, and you're essentially letting rogue elements take over your body.
Fruit is simple to eat: Just grab a banana or an orange, peel, and enjoy. It also transforms meals. Think about the juicy crunch of grapes in chicken salad or the burst of sharp sweetness a few strawberries add to cereal. With a little creativity, vegetables can be just as delicious – think of ripe red tomatoes dressed with basil, zucchini fresh off the grill and dusted with a touch of sea salt, and roasted sweet potatoes with a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.
Putting nature's original gourmet treats on your plate may take more time than zipping through the burger-stand drive-through or tossing a frozen entree into your microwave, but it's worth it in terms of both satisfaction and health. And thanks to a host of prewashed, precut produce available in the supermarket, you'll be surprised how easy it really can be. Try these strategies to get your fill.
Assign specific servings to each meal. For example, you might always have a small glass of orange juice plus a handful of berries or a side of melon at breakfast, start lunch with a salad (two servings of veggies), have fruit as a snack, and serve one cooked veggie and one raw veggie at dinner. That's seven servings!
Always have two colors of produce on your plate. Start breakfast with a spinach and red pepper omelet, have carrots and black beans (yes, they count as vegetables) on your lunchtime salad, and top your pasta with chopped tomatoes and steamed broccoli at dinner. It's an automatic two servings per meal and floods your body with a wide variety of antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals.
Double each vegetable portion you'd normally eat. This is a good approach if you're already eating several servings a day.
Load up on ready-to-use produce. Try cans of fruit in light syrup or juice, frozen plain (no sauce) vegetables, frozen berries, and pre-sliced, pre-trimmed vegetables. We also love pre-washed spinach that you can microwave right in the bag.
Keep salads interesting. Plain green salads get boring, but just one new topping can make them seem new again. Try roasted sesame seeds, canned artichoke hearts, a few olives, sliced cucumbers, red peppers, hot peppers, or even a few raspberries. (‘Simple Health Secrets’, by Reader’s Digest)