Fresh, filling and heart-healthy, fruits and vegetables are an important part of your overall healthy eating plan. They contribute important nutrients for the human body, vitamins, minerals and fiber – and they’re low in calories! Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help with weight management and blood pressure.
Yet, most Americans still don’t eat enough of them. The American Heart Association recommends eating eight or more fruit and vegetable servings every day. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Michigan adults and adolescents consume below the low national average of 1.1 servings of fruits and 1.6 servings of vegetables a day.
The prevalence of obesity in both Michigan and the U.S. has risen steadily since the year 2000. The Michigan Public Health Institute reported in 2009 stated that approximately 30.3% of adults in Michigan were considered obese, while 35.2% of the adult population was overweight.
Several factors may directly influence the daily intake of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.
Better access to stores that sell fruits and vegetables and other healthier foods may increase their consumption among adults. Improving access can include expanding access to stores that stock an affordable selection of fresh produce, improving availability in smaller convenience stores and utilizing community approaches like farmer’s markets.
Improving access for children and adolescents can include encouraging the consumption of fruits and vegetables at school events and opportunities outside of school meal programs. According to the CDC, only 28.3 percent of Michigan schools currently offer fruits and vegetables at celebrations and events.
By increasing the number of healthier food options at such events, schools can promote better eating and support of a food environment that aligns more closely with current dietary guidelines.
Through the purchase of produce from local/regional farms, the implementation of salad bars, training services for food providers, teachers, and parents, fruit and vegetable intake may help increase among children as well. Experimental learning opportunities such as school garden programs and farm visits for youth and staff can support nutrition awareness and better personal choices.
The American Heart Association’s Teaching Gardens program fights childhood obesity in schools by teaching elementary school students how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest produce and understand the value of good eating habits.
In 2011, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics revealed that 82 percent of U.S. adults cited not wanting to give up foods that they like as a reason for not eating healthier.
The Heart Association offers the following tips to make eating more fruits and vegetables an easy choice.
· Try apples with peanut butter, carrots and humus, or bananas and yogurt. These double as a quick grab-and-go breakfast to wake up the mind and body for the day’s activities.
· At school, take advantage of the salad bar and serve yourself at least a half a plate of your favorite fruit and veggie options.
· Keep it colorful and mix them up! Challenge yourself to try fruits and vegetables of different colors. See if you and your family can consume a rainbow of fruits and vegetables during the week.
· Add it on. Add fruits and/or vegetables to foods you love. Try adding peas to mac’n cheese, veggies on top of pizza and sliced fruit on cereal or ice cream.
For more information, visit the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Center at www.heart.org/nutrition.
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