Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eat Your Veggies!!

Your mother always said to eat your veggies. Were you one of the kids who enjoyed eating veggies or did you think it was a punishment? Well, it turns out your mother knew what she was talking about. If you learned to eat veggies when you were a kid, you are ahead of the game.

In a recent study, published online in the European Heart Journal, eating at least eight servings a day of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of death from ischemic heart disease by 22%. Wow! A 22% reduction is pretty good.

Other studies throughout the years have also talked about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Have you heard of the DASH Diet? DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was a huge study conducted in the 1990’s. They found that a diet focused on fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and reduced saturated fat helped lower blood pressure.

A report from the American Institute for Cancer Research, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, says, “a predominantly plant-based diet may reduce the risk of cancer.”

In January, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association came out with their Guidelines for the Primary Prevention of Stroke. One of their recommendations states, “A diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and thereby high in potassium is beneficial and may lower risk of stroke.”

So, eating fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, lowers your blood pressure, reduces your risk of cancer, and lowers your risk of stroke. Those are some pretty good reasons to eat fruits and vegetables! Of course, if you just look at it from that point of view, it sounds like eating fruits and vegetables is like taking medicine.

Think back to the questions I asked in the first paragraph. When you were a kid, did you enjoy eating veggies or did you think it was a punishment? What about now? Do you enjoy eating fruits and veggies, do you avoid them at all costs, or do you dutifully eat your carrots every day, just because you are supposed to?

I love eating fruits and vegetables, especially in the summer when I can get them fresh from my garden or from the farmer’s market. Even in the winter, we store apples, potatoes, onions and winter squash in the basement, and we can always get frozen or canned vegetables from the grocery.

Not everyone is like me. Some people do not enjoy eating fruits and vegetables. (At least they think they don’t.) So, what does it take to get people to change their behavior and start eating at least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? If there was an easy answer to that question, everyone would already be doing it.

Behavior change is hard. If your diet consists mainly of hamburgers, pizza, and Doritos®, it is hard to think about eating even one piece of fruit. To get the health benefits we talked about earlier, you have to make fruits and vegetables part of your daily routine. The best way to do that is to make it enjoyable to eat them. There are many sites on the internet where you can get great recipes and tips for making fruits and vegetables a way of life. Here are a few:

American Institute for Cancer Research Health e-Recipes – You can sign up, and they will deliver healthy recipes to your inbox.

Fruits & Veggies More Matters – It used to be 5-A-Day. They have plenty of recipes, and surprisingly, the recipes focus on fruits and vegetables.

Farmers' Market Recipes – Dr. Preston Maring helped start a farmer’s market at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in 2003. He then started putting together recipes for food you can get from the farmer’s market. This is his collection.

Michigan WISEWOMAN Recipes and Cooking Tips – Of course, you can also find recipes and tips on the Michigan WISEWOMAN website.

Learning to enjoy fruits and vegetables is one part of the equation. You also need to have access to them and you have to be able to afford them. Those are issues for another day. Stay tuned!