Choosing the right amount of fruits and vegetables

Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables is important for nutritional and mineral balance. Having a variety of cooked, raw and pureed produce is important and all forms count as a serving. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — When choosing fruits, you want to choose whole fruits because they consist of fiber and possess other nutritional value that supports a healthy body, Michigan State University Community Nutrition Instructor Stephanie Meck of Menominee said during a Zoom segment on “Tips for Using Garden Produce” on June 30.

Meck along with Alger County’s MSU Community Nutrition Instructor Vicki Ballas provided ways on how to utilize produce to benefit overall health. The segment was the last Smart Gardening series where the instructors addressed the importance of how to use fruits, vegetables and herbs and shared recipes on how to incorporate more produce into one’s diet.

“With the emphasis on the fruits and vegetables, (they’re) naturally low in calories, low in sodium, low in fat and cholesterol and high in vitamins and minerals and fiber. Vitamins, minerals and fiber are the main emphasis that we get from our fruits and veggies,” Meck said. “They’re very similar as far as the nutrition that you can get. Fruits, of course, the amount is a little smaller because of the natural sugar that’s in there but that natural sugar, (or) fructose, we get in our fruit helps get your body that energy and it’s also easier for your body to turn into energy.”

All forms of whole foods count — fresh, frozen, canned, dried and pureed – and they all count as a single serving size, Meck said. Besides the rainbow on the plate, there also needs to be a rainbow of fruits and veggies.

“Each color offers a little more nutritional value in there, that’s why they want you to eat that rainbow of fruits and veggies every day. And trying to have at least those darker colors about every other day, at least three times a week you want to incorporate that,” Meck noted.

Red fruits and vegetables that support heart health and memory include tomatoes, red peppers or radishes. Orange-colored fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe, peaches, nectarines, orange peppers and carrots, consisting of Vitamin A are a good foundation for eyes and heart health. Yellows, which are critically important for the immune system, consumption of yellow watermelon, summer squash, yellow peppers, corn, golden beets and yellow tomatoes

Greens help maintain bone health, teeth and eyes which range from asparagus, peas, green beans, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, zucchini, green peppers, kale to honeydew. Though blue/purple are sparse in the garden, vegetables and fruits such as blueberries, grapes, plums and beets aid with memory and healthy aging. And of course, there are always “white, fluffy clouds” around the rainbow such as onions, garlic and potatoes and those reinforce heart health and maintain cholesterol levels, she added.

To include more fruits and vegetables in one’s diet, Meck suggested adding berries into spinach salads such as strawberries and blueberries and making a homemade honey or maple vinaigrette dressing. Fresh fruit salsas are the right sweetness to add on top of grilled pork chops or chicken or it’s an easy option to add to Greek vanilla yogurt.

Adding cucumber, lettuce, tomato and/or onion to sandwiches or wraps incorporates more crunch and flavor to a meal. Even adding fresh strawberries, bananas or apple slices with peanut butter sandwiches is a healthier option, Meck said.

When sauteing vegetables, think of radishes, spicy greens such as mustard lettuce, and arugula, Ballas said. Roasting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and herbs until most of the liquid is gone, and pureeing it can be used for a pizza sauce, she said.

“Smoothies are such a good way to use up extra produce and get more fruit and veggies in you. If you haven’t thought of adding cooked carrots, beets and raw spinach along with the fruit to naturally sweeten it, it is delicious, nutritious and very refreshing,” Ballas said.

But what about kale? Many people don’t really like it because it’s tough in texture but massaging it or “crumbling it up like a piece of paper,” it will become tender like spinach enough for cooking, Ballas said.

Anytime bananas are becoming too ripe, chop them up and put them in a freezer bag and freeze them, Ballas said, noting that adding a handful of mint to the frozen fruit in a blender makes for perfect “mint micecream.”

Eating the right amount of vegetables and fruits is crucial as well as staying hydrated.

“We must have water. Our bodies are about 60% water. Water lubricates our joints, it regulates body temperature — are you one of those people who are often cold or hot? Water dissolves vitamins and minerals from our food and carries it as well as oxygen to every cell in our body,” Ballas said. “Water binds with fiber and acts like a brush to clean our intestines to keep us regular and to avoid getting diverticulitis, so this is where food gets stuck in the wrinkles and the pockets of our intestines and basically it rots there and you can get very sick.”

Water also helps kidneys to flush out waste and toxins and keeps eyes, nose, mouth and skin moist. It protects our organs and tissues. A children’s suggested amount of water, who weighs 100 pounds, is 6-8 cups. But the best way to know whether you’re consuming enough water, is to look at your urine. If it’s light colored, you’re staying on top of hydration. If it’s darker, drink water immediately, Ballas said.

When people don’t drink enough water, they may experience low energy, dizziness, nausea, headache, constipation, depression, anxiety, excess dryness of skin near eyes, nose and mouth and their body temperature may be cold/hot most of the time, she explained.

Ways to drink more water include drinking an extra glass while brushing your teeth, having a glass in the morning as soon as you wake up, bringing it with you and flavored-water, such as adding sliced lemon, cucumber or strawberries with water and letting it sit overnight. This type of flavored-water keeps you hydrated and has a shelf life of four to five days, Ballas said.

During the presentation, a few virtual attendees asked whether buying nutritional powders would be a healthy option to add more electrolytes comes from fruits and vegetables.

“You want to eat your nutrients in whole foods. That package comes to you in this perfect little thing that your body needs. It has all the fiber, it has even the water in it, some things have fat in it for fat soluble nutrients so you need that package as opposed to separating out all the pieces and then your body doesn’t particularly know what to do with those,” Ballas said.

The relative serving size for fruits is half of the dinner plate or 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables which totals to 5-9 servings between fruits and vegetables every day, according to choosemyplate.gov.

For more information and recipes, visit canr.msu.edu/mi_fresh/.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at jjahfetson@miningjournal.net


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today