We all know we should be eating more produce, but it’s easier said than done. It’s estimated that only 10 percent of us consume adequate amounts. As an outpatient registered dietitian, I hear many reasons why Veterans I work with are not able to reach the recommended 5-9 servings each day. Some of these reasons are myths that we hear on television or from well-meaning friends and family. In honor of National Fruit and Vegetable Month this June, let’s debunk some of these myths.
Myth #1: I don’t need fruits and vegetables because I take a multivitamin
Multivitamins can be a great back-up plan for Veterans who have poor appetites or don’t eat a good variety of foods in their diet. However, many of us could get these important nutrients from food. Produce provides a lot more than just vitamins and minerals. Specifically, it provides antioxidants (that play a role in heart health and cancer prevention), plus dietary fiber which is satiating and promotes healthy bowels.
Myth #2: Canned vegetables and fruits have no nutritional value
While canned veggies are higher in sodium than fresh, and canned fruit in heavy syrup contains a lot of sugar, don’t discount canned just yet. If you are not able to get to a grocery store often, are on a fixed food budget, or do not enjoy cooking, canned is a good option. Canned items are inexpensive, have a long shelf life, and don’t require cooking. Did you know that draining and rinsing canned veggies and beans with water lowers the sodium content by about 40%?!
- Vegetable tip: Look for cans that say “no salt added”.
- Fruit tip: Look for canned fruit in “light syrup” or “no sugar added.
Myth #3: Vegetables don’t taste good
Forget boring, steamed vegetables and excite your taste buds with these tips:
- Use fresh or dried spices and herbs: Chili powder, garlic, fresh onions, and basil flakes are just a few of my favorites. The flavor of many dried spices intensifies when heated.
- Try grilling or roasting vegetables, which brings out the natural flavor better than steaming.
- Use your favorite sauce or dip, such as salsa, guacamole, tomato sauce, hummus, or salad dressing.
- Try a new recipe (see below) or watch a short cooking video for step-by-step directions.
- Ask if your VA has a Healthy Teaching Kitchen. My co-workers and I made this Mediterranean Chickpea Salad recently. Many Veterans who came to the event agreed the taste was delicious, the dish was easy to make, and that they would try it at home!
Myth #4: I can’t afford fruits and vegetables
- Check out the sales in the canned and frozen aisle for fruits and vegetables.
- If organic produce is too expensive, buy non-organic.
- Try buying in season and check the circular for sales – think zucchini, watermelon, corn, and tomatoes in the summer months.
- Apples, bananas, carrots, potatoes, and broccoli are usually affordable year round.
- Find a local farmer’s market – you may be able to bargain the price down and many are now accepting “SNAP” (food stamp) benefits.
Researchers of these studies found that people who ate canned fruits and vegetables had overall healthier diets and consumed similar amounts of sodium than those who did not eat canned produce.
About the author: Michelle Hyman, MS, RD, CDN is a MOVE! Program registered dietitian based at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare system. In addition to face-to-face group and individual counseling, she enjoys using telephone and video technology to help Veterans reach their nutrition and health goals.