The latest scientific research has shown--and the evidence continues to mount--that the plant kingdom is filled with gifts that can help fight off the ravages of chronic disease. A large group of compounds called phytochemicals (see below), found in plants ranging from garlic to cabbage to tea leaves, have been shown to help fight disease by preventing the cellular damage caused by chemicals called free radicals. A diet rich in fiber also has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Fiber and phytochemicals are a one-two punch that should be reason enough to eat your peas and broccoli.
SO, WHY DO WE RESIST EATING OUR VEGGIES?
The trick is not to force yourself to eat stuff you hate but rather to find ways to turn the plant kingdom into dishes you enjoy. Don't want to face a plate of okra or Brussels sprouts? You don't have to. Aim for variety, and put your energy into getting--on a daily basis--as many different vegetables as you can into salads, soups, stews, sides, salsas and pasta sauces. Fresh is best, but frozen is fine and even canned will often do (though mind the added sodium).
AN APPLE A DAY
Fruit is a natural energy source, and there's nothing wrong with eating an apple a day. But why stop there? As always, variety is key, and there's a whole world of fruit to be savored and enjoyed. Look for new ways to add fruit to your daily routine. Begin your day with a fruit smoothie or throw a handful of banana slices and mixed berries on your cereal. Add peaches, pears or melons to your lunch, and make fresh or dried fruit a sweet, satisfying snack. Try fish and meat with tropical-fruit salsa. Be adventurous. Find out--finally--what a loquat or a persimmon tastes like.
Americans love their potatoes--but too much for their own good. We eat 140 lbs. per capita yearly. And while an unadorned potato is low in fat and a good source of nutrients, it is also primarily a carbohydrate that is almost immediately turned into sugar in the body. Besides, who eats plain potatoes? We love to dress them up--mashed with butter or gravy, baked with sour cream, deep-fried, scalloped or au gratin. Putting the humble potato at the center of every meal might have been a necessity a century ago. It isn't now. You don't have to stop eating potatoes--just don't eat them to the exclusion of other vegetables.
THE JUICE TRAP
Starting each day with a glass of juice is a healthy morning ritual. But we need to remember that the juice has more calories--sometimes even added sugar--and less fiber than the fruit.
Soluble fiber, which dissolves and becomes gummy in water, slows digestion, promoting a sense of fullness. Found in apples, citrus fruits and carrots.
Insoluble fiber, also known as roughage, speeds the passage of food through the intestines. Found in wheat bran, veggies and whole grains.
6 Number of types of fruit that Americans eat most often, out of more than 60 types available in the food supply
6 Gallons of water it takes to grow 1 cup of lettuce, the second most popular vegetable in the U.S. after potatoes