How many fruits and veggies do you eat in a typical week? Chances are if you’re anything like the typical person, probably not enough. Yes, that include you vegetarians surviving on cheesy pasta and cheese and tomato pizza! Cheese is not a vegetable.
The typical recommendation is to eat 5 to 10 fruit or vegetable servings each day. And most people won’t get close on most days. This means that both health and body composition could be impacted as a result.
Both fruit and veg are high in micronutrients. These are the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that play an important role in various functions in your body. In fact, there are so many different compounds packed away in fruit and veg whose effects haven’t yet been mapped, that it will take years of research to dig into all the positive effects fruit and veg play.
From a fat loss perspective, a decrease in micronutrition levels has been shown to lower fat metabolism and worsen body composition.
“Micronutrition deficiencies have been associated with an increase in fat deposition and body weight” Rosado JL et al 2011
Ironically, overly restrictive diets limit food variety and limit fruit intake. This causes a reduction in the variety and amount of micronutrition consumed and can make losing weight more difficult. This is why I recommend a varied diet to clients, nothing off limits but a focus on whole food first and treats only now and again.
3 ways to increase your fruit and veg intake
Your goal is simply to improve your intake just a little. After all, any increase is better than where you might be right now. And better beats optimal.
2-4 servings per day.
Pick a couple of fruits and/or veggies and aim for 2-4 servings per day. Simple. Ideally, it would be 2-4 different options, but honestly, if you only get 1 serving on a good day now, 2 apples a day is a huge improvement on where you are. Maintain this number for a couple of weeks and add another serving. Then simply repeat the cycle of add and maintain until you get up to regularly having 7-10 servings per day.
Starchy vs non-starchy
Starchy fruit and veg, such as potatoes, bananas, beans etc should mostly be consumed in meals that are pre- and post-workout. These will provide the fuel you need to perform well in high energy demand training sessions as well as helping you recover well.
Non-starchy options such as spinach, broccoli, melon, berries etc should then be consumed outside of the pre and post workout window.
Eat the rainbow
Eating a variety of different coloured fruits and veggies not only stops you getting bored of eating the same thing over and over, but gives you a bigger range of benefits.
RED/ PURPLE /BLUE
Red fruits and vegetables are coloured by a lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant. Similarly, the plant pigment anthocyanin is what gives blue/purple fruits and vegetables their distinctive colour. Anthocyanin also has antioxidant properties.
Carotenoids give this group their vibrant colour. One example is Betacarotene and is found in sweet potatoes, pumpkins and carrots. It is converted to vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy mucous membranes and healthy eyes. Another is lutein, and has been found to prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Carrots, lemons, sweet potato, pumpkin, pineapples, mangoes, sweetcorn, oranges, squash, peaches, nectarines, apricots, grapefruit.
Green vegetables contain a range of phytochemicals including carotenoids, indoles and saponins, all of which have anti-cancer properties. Leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli are also excellent sources of folate.
White fruits and vegetables contain a range of health-promoting phytochemicals such as allicin (found in garlic) which is known for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Some in this group, such and bananas and potatoes are good sources of potassium.
With these groups, aim for 2 different colours per day. Once that becomes easy, increase to 3 and then all 4 each day. By gradually increasing the range of coloured options you have, you increase the total range of micronutrition you get.
Yeah, Dave, that’s all well and good, but where do I start?
Ok. So here are 3 tips to help you make it easy to get more veggies and fruits each day.
- Add raw diced veg to cooked lean meat when you do your prep. This means that when you go to reheat it, the veg gets cooked for the first time so it comes out tasting delicious. Add a handful of diced veg to your tupperwares of cooked chicken, pork and fish.
- Make a supershake. For example, start with a handful of greens, add a handful of berries (frozen is fine), some protein powder, some creatine, some liquid and blitz. You get a range of colours, some protein, the added plus of the neuroprotective effects of creatine and it’s easy to chug.
- Mushroom-based, or greens-based, powders. I don’t often recommend supplements in the place of whole foods, but if you really struggle to get your veggies in, a good supplement can help you on your way.