If there is one simple change you can make to better your health, my answer is the same for most people: just eat more plant foods.
You don’t have to stop eating meat. You don’t have to stop eating wheat (these last two sentences represent my best Dr. Seuss imitation). You don’t need to cut out fat – in fact, some fat in your diet is essential. You don’t even need to ban sugar, although many of us should eat less of it. You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian. You don’t need to follow a special diet you found in a book or magazine or saw on an infomercial. You don’t need to be paleo or “keto”. You don’t need to count calories. I could go on and on with unsustainable changes people make to their diet and lifestyle that backfire over time.
Simply getting more servings of fruits and vegetables into your day can make a huge difference in the overall quality of most people’s diets. The nutrition community has spent decades chasing its own tail about how to best counsel the public about nutrition, but one constant message has been that too many of us don’t get enough plant foods.
Obesity is a huge issue in our country and is starting to be in other parts of the world. It often drives chronic diseases including heart disease (#1 cause of death in the US), cancer (#2), and diabetes (#7). The most basic driver of obesity is taking in more energy (calories) than your body needs. Fruits and vegetables are low in what we often have too much of (calories, sugar, salt) and high in what we generally don’t get enough of (fiber, potassium, antioxidants). The best way to combat obesity is to not become obese in the first place, and adequate intake of plant foods will help accomplish that.
So how much is enough? An ambitious (but worthwhile) goal to work towards if 3-5 cups per day. How do you accomplish this? Start by including fruit at breakfast and making half of your plate at lunch and dinner plant foods. This will likely reduce the portions of food groups that many eat in excess. In addition, look for opportunities to include these foods as snacks. Whole, fresh fruits and vegetables are best, but frozen makes a good substitute and keeps much longer. Eat a wide variety of colors for a wide variety of nutrients. Try preparing items in different ways – many people dislike raw or boiled Brussels sprouts, but roasted Brussels sprouts are better than tolerable, they’re delicious! Stop into farmer’s markets or look into a CSA (community-supported agriculture) in your area. Or contact me for more ideas!