Getting your five-a-day: It's easier than you think
October 12, 1999
Web posted at: 1:35 PM EDT (1735 GMT)
By Miriam Nelson, Ph.D.
It's an inner voice that never seems to die away: "Eat more fruits and vegetables," you tell yourself. You may hear this voice when you sit down to a fast-food meal. And the guilt of not filling up on greens gnaws at you when you choose the meatloaf platter instead of the salad when eating out.
Eating "five-a-day" isn't just an empty slogan that the National Cancer Institute likes to tout. Your risk of contracting heart disease, cancer and other chronic diseases may be reduced by including more fruits and vegetables in your diet. And now, new evidence in the October 6, 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) may further motivate you to visit the produce market: Eating five to six servings of fruits and vegetables each day may reduce your risk of stroke by more than 30 percent.
What's so special about fruits and vegetables? They contain many of the most important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs. Make sure you choose a variety; different foods contain different vitamins and minerals. But nutrient-rich foods such as red bell peppers, apples, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chives, leeks and spinach are always good choices.
In the JAMA study, people who had the lowest risk of suffering a stroke were those who ate more cruciferous vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens and cauliflower), green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and citrus juices.
Identifying a serving
The five-a-day recommendation doesn't mean five servings of fruits and five servings of vegetables, as some Americans may think. Health experts recommend a total of five servings -- comprised of both fruits and vegetables.
That still may seem like an intimidating amount of food for the many Americans who tend to eat oversized portions of everything except fruits and vegetables, particularly in restaurants. Serving sizes, however, may be different from what you think.
For example, say it's dinnertime. What's on your plate? Boneless grilled chicken breast, rice and spinach. If you do not go back for seconds, you've had one serving from the meat, grain and vegetable group, right? If you are an average American, this may not be true.
A 3-ounce serving of chicken breast is considered a serving and is about the size and thickness of a deck of cards, according to the American Dietetic Association. Most people tend to eat a portion that's the equivalent of two servings. Some restaurants (and generous cooks) pile on three servings of meat -- your entire recommended amount for the day in one meal. As for a serving of rice, 1/2 a cup is no bigger than a single spooned scoop. And finally, with the spinach as your vegetable, it is likely that you consumed just one serving: a 1/2 cup of cooked spinach equals one serving.
To give you an idea of how to gauge your fruit and vegetable servings, take a look at what qualifies for a serving below.
According to the American Dietetic Association, one serving equals:
1 cup of raw, green leafy vegetables (spinach, lettuce, etc.)
1/2 cup of cooked vegetables (corn, carrots, spinach, asparagus)
1 medium-sized apple, orange or banana
1/2 cup chopped fruit
How to get your five-a-day
If you are already eating three to four servings of fruits and vegetables each day, meeting the five-a-day recommendation may be as simple as snacking on baby carrots, an apple or cucumber sticks instead of chips, pretzels or crackers. However, if you are eating only a couple of servings of fruits and vegetables each day, meeting the challenge may be more difficult. Work toward the goal slowly, adding one extra fruit or vegetable each day for a week or two and then adding another when you are ready. The following tips may help you find simple ways to meet the five-a-day recommendation:
Add fresh fruit like sliced banana or berries to cereal or yogurt in the morning.
Drink orange juice with breakfast (or cranberry, grapefruit or others).
Stack sandwiches high with spinach, sprouts, cucumber and tomatoes.
Double your vegetable serving at dinner once a week and skip the rice.
Eat a small salad with your evening meal.
Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., is the director of the Center for Physical Fitness at Tufts University. She is author of the international best-sellers, "Strong Women Stay Young" and "Strong Women Stay Slim."Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.
RELATEDS AT :
Eating well for chronic conditions
Fruits and vegetables: Eating your way to five-a-day
American Dietetic Association
The Action Guide for Healthy Eating
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