Why eat more fruit and veg?
Most of us probably spent large portions of our childhoods trying to avoid eating fruit or veg while our mums and dads tried desperately to persuade us to add them into our diets. But making the right choices with your diet can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing - not just now, but in the future as we continue to keep living longer.
A more balanced diet that incorporates a colourful variety of fruit and vegetables can enable you to manage your weight better, give you more energy, sharpen up your grey matter, ward off diseases and help you enjoy a healthier, longer life. Plus, if you choose the right foods, it can make mealtimes more interesting and liven up your cooking.
It’s really easy to make fairly small changes to your lifestyle and eating habits that allow you to eat more healthily. Make time in the mornings or evenings to chop up some fruit or prepare meals to take with you to work. You can even make a large quantity of a meal at once and freeze it in portions so there’s always something quick, easy and healthy to hand in the house.
What are the healthiest vegetables?
The truth is that variety is key. Different foods contain varying nutrients and you need all of them, so it’s important to mix and match. However, there are some vegetables that have particularly high levels of certain nutrients that you might want to bear in mind.
Many of these veg are green in colour, but one of the best ways to make sure you’re getting a good variety of vegetables in your diet is to make sure you’re eating colourfully - contrast is definitely a good thing.
Spinach: No wonder Popeye loved these brilliant leaves so much. They’re packed with antioxidants like vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as vitamin K - an important contributor to cardiovascular and bone health. Of course, it’s also full of iron. That said, there’s no proof it can actually make your muscles grow in an instant.
Broccoli: The chances are that your parents tried all kinds of tactics to get you to eat your greens as a child. Well, they were definitely right to do so. Broccoli and its cousin, broccoli rabe, are full of vitamins and antioxidants as well as iron - and it’s even a great source of protein.
Peas: The humble garden pea is a wonderful addition to your diet. High iron content and plenty of folic acid - which is especially important for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive - along with lots of other nutrients make them a great choice for all different kinds of meals. Try adding them to rice along with some sweetcorn.
Peppers: Adding a bit of colour to this list, bell peppers of all shades and hues are brimming with vitamins C, B and A, folic acid, fibre and those all-important antioxidants. Try stuffing them with onions and courgettes along with some low-fat cheese for a delicious meal.
Beyond the traditional fruit and veg we’re used to seeing in our shops, a whole raft of previously little-known foods has leapt onto the scene. “Superfoods” are now on shelves everywhere, though many people still don’t really know what to do with them. Here are just a few of the top fruit and veg superfoods out there.
Kale: People seem to either love or hate kale, but it’s definitely worth trying to incorporate it into your regular diet. Full of vitamin K and lutein, which is great for your eyes, it also contains lots of vitamin C to boost your immune system, heart health, skin and more.
Avocado: Great for keeping your brain healthy and lowering blood pressure. Although it has a fairly high fat content, it’s a monounsaturated fat, which actually helps to keep blood flowing healthily. That said, it does still have a lot of calories, so consider having half in a salad and saving the rest for tomorrow.
Blueberries: Another fruit that can help keep your brain in top condition, blueberries are packed with antioxidants. It’s even believed they can boost your cognitive abilities, so they could help you stay sharp and maybe even reduce the effects of conditions like dementia.
Artichokes: They might look like they once dreamed of being pinecones, but artichokes are packed with magnesium - an essential mineral that contributes to hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, but which a surprising number of people tend to be short on. You may feel like you have more energy if you’re making sure you get plenty of this magnificent chemical.
How do I get them in my diet?
With more choice available than ever before in our fruit and veg shops and supermarkets, you might be surprised at how easy it is to integrate more fruit and vegetables into your daily life. You can start with a few simple changes that will make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.
Bulk up breakfast: Fruit is a great addition to your morning routine. If you opt for cereal, porridge, yoghurt or muesli, try chopping up a banana and adding it to your breakfast. Alternatively, go for some fresh berries - frozen berries are just as good for you, but remember to defrost them overnight.
Sip a smoothie: Whatever you’d normally sip throughout the day, try replacing it with a delicious smoothie. There are lots of smoothie recipes out there, and even entire books devoted to the subject. But the truth is that it really isn’t that hard - pick a few fruits you like and stick them in a blender. Add some low-fat milk or yoghurt if you prefer the texture, then see what happens.
Substitute spuds: Potatoes can be an important part of your diet, because they’re an excellent source of starch. But the truth is most people eat more starchy food than they really need. Experiment with sweet potato once in a while, or think about swede or parsnips instead - you can mash them, roast them, even fry them to make chips.
Swap a snack: If you’re deeply attached to your mid-morning biscuit or partial to crisps in the afternoon, consider a healthier alternative to boost your veg count. Chop up an apple or carrot and put it in a sandwich bag so it’s easier to eat bit by bit throughout your day. Invest in a bunch of grapes or bananas. Keep a bag of dried fruit in your bag or a drawer so there’s always something to hand.
Ingredients: three medium or two large parsnips sliced thinly, 500ml chicken stock (homemade or from a cube- it doesn’t matter), one small onion, one small carrot, half a stick of celery, 1 finely chopped garlic clove and a teaspoon of grated root ginger.
Method: Shallow fry the onion, garlic, ginger, carrot and celery for ten minutes, or until the garlic is soft. Add a dash of thyme if you have some to hand. Then, add the parsnips and stock at the same time and bring them to the boil.
Cover and then simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, or when you notice the vegetables are soft. Then, put the whole thing in a blender to puree it - and if it’s still too thick, add a little water or creme fraiche to thin it out.
Boost the veg content: Leek and sweet potato are both great accompaniments to parsnips, so play around with ways of adding them for a flavoursome, filling and reassuringly hearty lunch.
Sweet potato wedges
Ingredients: Between six and eight sliced sweet potatoes, a tablespoon of olive oil and your choice of seasoning. Paprika works really well for a warming flavour, but the standard combination of salt and pepper can also add another layer of taste.
Method: Preheat your oven to around 200C (gas mark six), and either grease or line a baking tray. To add the coating, you have two options. You could easily just sprinkle and drizzle on the oil and seasoning, then turn the sweet potatoes over and repeat. Alternatively, you can mix the oil and seasonings in a bowl and then toss the sweet potatoes to make sure they’re properly covered.
Then, place the sweet potatoes on the baking tray making sure they’re spread out, rather than being piled on top of each other, and put them in the oven for around 40 minutes.