Burton: The meat and potatoes of healthy eating
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that there is a severe lack of legitimately healthy eating in America. It's not that processed foods make up around 70% of the average American diet, and it's not that a quarter of Americans eat fast food every day.
According to the CDC, less than 10% of Americans eat enough vegetables on a daily basis. And somewhere around 12% of Americans are eating enough fruit.
"Wow," you might say, "that's awful! But I eat a salad every day for lunch, and top my oatmeal with apples, so I must be fine."
Nope. That isn't near enough. Choosemyplate.gov recommends 1 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1 to 2 cups of fruit per day. But physically active people should be eating even more, so those numbers are really minimums, not maximums.
"OK, so maybe I don't eat enough vegetables. But I take my vitamins, so I'm definitely fine."
Not quite. If you skip eating your veggies and decide to take pills instead, you may get the right amount of vitamins, but you'll miss out on plenty of other benefits.
If you substitute vitamins for vegetables, chances are you won't get enough fiber in your diet. Fiber is extremely important for several reasons. One reason is that it helps your body absorb nutrients, and another is that it promotes proper digestive health. A lack of fiber can result in constipation, bloating and gassiness.
On the other hand, a diet with the proper amount of fiber can help you lose weight and may lower blood pressure. Plus, if you skip eating your vegetables, you might be missing out on antioxidants, which your vitamins might be lacking.
"OK, OK, so I need to eat more vegetables. How do I do that?"
A simple trick to get more nutrients is to make sure that in every meal you eat, half of it is comprised of fruits and vegetables. However, try and have more vegetables than fruit.
Add some extra benefit by making sure that you're eating a variety of foods. One way is to try and get fruits and vegetables with different colors, like white cauliflower, or purple eggplant. Colors can help show what nutrients the plant holds, and if you eat a variety, you make sure to get a variety of nutrients.
This trick, along with simply remembering that you need 1 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1 to 2 cups of fruit at a minimum, can help you better your diet, lose weight and feel more energized.
But the cause of the problem, like most things, is complex, and stems from multiple factors. To better tackle this problem, we need to understand what reasons exist that cause this issue to exist in the first place.
One possible reason we don't eat enough plants is because we eat so much meat. The recommended amount of meat to consume is roughly 5 to 6.5 ounces per day, while Americans average about 10 ounces per day. Since meat is so filling, it's possible we just don't feel hungry enough to eat our vegetables.
Another reason is that there is simply a lack of accessibility to fruits and vegetables for some people. Some schools might not offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; some workplaces might only have a vending machine and a water cooler.
We can combat this by speaking to the people running these spaces and voicing our concerns. Healthier people perform better at work and at school, and eating more vegetables is even good for the environment. So there's every reason to try to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Trade in that yogurt for an apple. Trade in that granola bar for a salad. Your body will thank you.
Will Burton is a personal trainer and the owner of Mobile Training Systems in Sherwood. He has experience training athletes and members of the general population and holds multiple certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
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