Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is a cornerstone of good health. It helps control blood pressure and cholesterol, keeps arteries flexible, protects bones, and is good for the eyes, brain, digestive system, and just about every other part of the body. But many of us have trouble putting that knowledge into practice and getting five or more servings a day.
One big barrier to tapping into the power of produce is the perception that fruits and vegetables are expensive. That's not necessarily so. You can buy three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables for under $3 a day, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Preparation time, unfamiliarity, and old habits are other barriers to eating more fruits and vegetables. Here are some suggestions for tipping aside these barriers.
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An alarming one in three American adults has high blood pressure. Known medically as hypertension, many people don't even know they have it, because high blood pressure has no symptoms or warning signs. But when elevated blood pressure is accompanied by abnormal cholesterol and blood sugar levels, the damage to your arteries, kidneys, and heart accelerates exponentially. Fortunately, high blood pressure is easy to detect and treat. Sometimes people can keep blood pressure in a healthy range simply by making lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, increasing activity, and eating more healthfully.
- Know your needs. For the mythical 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, the latest guidelines recommend a minimum of 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables a day. More is better.
- Set a goal. If fruits and vegetables are minor items in your menu, start by eating one extra fruit or vegetable a day. When you're used to that, add another and keep going.
- Be sneaky. Adding finely grated carrots or zucchini to pasta sauce, meat loaf, chili, or a stew is one way to get an extra serving of vegetables.
- Try something new. It's easy to get tired of apples, bananas, and grapes. Try a kiwi, mango, fresh pineapple, or another of the more exotic choices available at your grocery store.
- Blend in. A fruit smoothie is a delicious way to start the day or tide you over until dinner.
- Be a big dipper. If the natural flavor of carrots, celery, broccoli, or other veggies isn't enough, try dipping them into hummus or another bean spread, some spiced yogurt, or even a bit of ranch dressing. Or slather peanut butter on a banana or slices of apple.
- Spread it on. Try mashed avocado as a dip with diced tomatoes and onions, or as a sandwich spread, topped with spinach leaves, tomatoes, and a slice of cheese.
- Start off right. Ditch your morning donut for an omelet with onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Or boost your morning cereal or oatmeal with a handful of strawberries, blueberries, or dried fruit.
- Drink up. Having a 6-ounce glass of low-sodium vegetable juice instead of a soda gives you a full serving of vegetables and spares you 10 teaspoons or more of sugar.
- Give them the heat treatment. Roasting vegetables is easy and brings out new flavors. Cut up onions, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, turnips and coat with olive oil, add a dash of balsamic vinegar, and roast at 350° until done. Use roasted or grilled veggies as a side dish, put them on sandwiches, or add them to salads.
- Let someone else do the work. If peeling, cutting, and chopping aren't your thing, food companies and grocers offer an ever-expanding selection of prepared produce.
- Improve on nature. Don't hesitate to jazz up vegetables with spices, chopped nuts, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, or a specialty oil like walnut or sesame oil.
- Get help from Willy Wonka. Try dipping your fruit in chocolate. In addition to a delectable dessert, you get plenty of heart-healthy antioxidants, some fiber, and a host of vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients.
For more ways to help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range, check out Controlling Your Blood Pressure, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
June 2015 update