|Vol. 17, No. 38||Aug. 6, 1998|
Marianne Carter surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables
at Milburn Orchards in nearby Elkton, Md.
"One of the most solid health tips is the simplest-eat more fruits and vegetables," Marianne Carter, Employee Wellness Center, said.
"Research has revealed that a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables can cut the risk of many cancers and may help control blood pressure. This is a simple dietary change that could have a huge payoff," she said.
"What could be faster and easier than peeling a banana, snacking on cherry tomatoes or opening a container of pineapple tidbits-and they taste good as well," Carter added.
But even though vegetables and fruits are good and good for everyone, Americans, in general, and Delawareans, in particular, are not eating their five daily servings.
That was her message earlier this summer, when she made a presentation to wellness professionals at the National Wellness Conference in Wisconsin on "Good for You Isn't Good Enough: Why Americans Aren't Eating More Fruits and Vegetables."
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey data-which includes responses from across the country on a variety of safety and health measures from seat belts to nutrition-showed that few Americans are getting their minimum five servings a day, Carter said.
The best state was Arkansas, and even then only 34.24 percent of those surveyed were eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Delaware had the dubious distinction of being 48th on the list with only 16.08 percent meeting the five-a-day goal.
Why is this so?
There are many factors, Carter said. One may be lack of knowledge. Not everyone realizes how important vegetables and fruits are in the daily diet. But, she said, in the past few years, the "Five a Day for Better Health" campaign has helped spread the message.
Cost is another factor. However, if you compare the cost of a banana with the per ounce cost of potato chips, the banana is the winner and has lots of nutritional value, while the chips have none, Carter said.
Inconvenience is cited as a deterrent. But, today produce departments feature such items as ready-to-eat bags of salad, and freezers and grocery shelves are stocked with prepackaged fruits and vegetables. Picked and processed at their prime, they sometimes are better than fresh foods and are just as nutritious, Carter said.
Pesticides are another concern, but she feels confident that this should not be a deterrent. For some individuals, as an added precaution, scrub vegetables with a brush or discard the outer leaves of lettuce or cabbage, Carter suggests.
Some people believe that fresh produce spoils too quickly. Therefore, buyers should make sure they use it quickly and purchase unripened fruit for later in the week, Carter said. Don't hide it away. For example, keep a bowl of fruit in a visible spot where people can help themselves instead of sticking things in a drawer where they turn into science experiments.
Why are the five servings so important?
"In addition to cancer prevention, vegetables and fruits are chock full of vitamins and minerals and are low in calories and fat. They have fiber, which is important in your daily diet, and they make diners feel full and satisfied, which is beneficial to those who are watching their weight," Carter said.
How does one go about improving vegetable and fruit intake?
"Do it in small steps," Carter advised. "Don't make a sweeping, general resolution to eat more vegetables and fruits. Set small, specific goals. For example, if one doesn't have fruit for breakfast, decide to add a glass of juice, put some fruit on breakfast cereal or add a piece of melon to the usual fare. Or resolve to have fruit daily with lunch, or an extra helping of vegetables at dinner."
A single helping is relatively small, Carter said-one piece of fruit, 1/4 cup of dried fruit, 1/2 cup of canned fruit, 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, cooked beans or peas, or 1 cup of raw vegetables.
"Be creative, experiment, have fun with fruits and vegetables," Carter said.
"One of my favorite snacks is baby carrots with salsa-a spicy, delicious and easy way to eat vegetables. A mealtime favorite is spaghetti squash. Bake it, cut it open and it comes out looking like spaghetti. It's fun to make and tastes great," she said.
"Have a fling and try unfamiliar vegetables and fruits. For example, I discovered jicamas while visiting in Texas years ago, and they are now available locally. They have a crisp, crunchy consistency similar to water chestnuts and can be sliced and used like chips with a dip," Carter said.
The supermarket produce manager is an excellent source of information and can give you serving tips about unusual and different foods, she said.
"We are trying to change the look of today's dinner plate," Carter said. "It used to be a large helping of meat, a starch and a small helping of vegetables. Today, we encourage the opposite-a smaller helping of meat and larger servings of one or more vegetables."
-Sue Swyers Moncure
Photo by Jack Buxbaum