Life is busy. We all need to prioritize our time and energy because we have a limited amount of each. It is the same way with food. We only have so much space in our stomach and so much time in our day for eating. So learning how to prioritize foods can help us figure out how to make food choices that will benefit us the most. But, how do we do this?
First let’s consider the functions of eating food. Food can meet emotional needs- from the pleasure derived in eating foods that taste good, to effects on our mood (calm, content). It can also meet mental needs (alert, clear thinking) and energy needs (energy to work, play and fulfill responsibilities). Eating food with high levels of vitamins and minerals provides essential ingredients critical to proper cell and organ function, which helps prevent illness and disease.
Fiber is only found in foods from plant sources, such as fruits and vegetables, and is important to health since it feeds the good microorganisms that live in our gut. These good microorganisms help us digest our food as well as produce critical vitamins, such as B vitamins necessary for proper function of the brain and nerves.
Fruits and vegetables provide another benefit. They provide phytochemicals, special plant components not found in any other type of food source. And phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables have been proven by research to provide special effects that support health, healing and resilience.
So, prioritizing eating fruits and vegetables in our day to day life gives us the highest level of benefit in satisfying the functions of food described earlier. This also provides special health and healing benefits from fiber and phytochemical compounds not found in other non-plant-foods. Eating 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, including a large serving (2 or more cups) of leafy greens, is a healthy way to prioritize your food choices.
So, now we know WHICH foods to prioritize. But HOW can we do this? One way to take action is slowly cut down on other types of foods, and replace them with fruits and vegetables. Ways that I have done this in my life include:
1) I drink fruit smoothies for breakfast every day. I buy bags of frozen fruit and throw some fruit in the blender with either filtered water, 100% fruit juice, or coconut water (make sure it’s not pink or red in color since this means it is starting to break down) and blend. It is inexpensive, fast, and tastes great. Two of my favorite smoothies include wild blueberries, banana and coconut water, and papaya and orange juice.
2) Sometimes I throw in some spinach or other greens and/or cilantro in my smoothie.
3) I eat fruit for snacks, including bringing some with me for mid-meal pick-me-ups when I leave the house. Many fruits function well for this purpose: bananas, apples, dates, pears, oranges, grapes, and dried apricots and mango, for example. Also, mini-carrots or other cut-up veggies are portable, healthy snacks.
4) I slice zucchini length-wise and use it to replace the pasta in lasagna. You can also use a spiralizer to cut zucchini or squash into strips to use in place of spaghetti or fettucchini noodles, and add your favorite sauce or even just a little olive oil, lemon and some herbs, like basil or parsley.
5) I include a large leafy green salad for lunch or dinner, and cut up veggies and dip in hummus, guacamole or bean dip. I often add cut up veggies, fruit, or even some cooked, cubed potatoes or sweet potatoes to my salad.
Do you have other examples of how you incorporate fruits and vegetables in your life? If so, I would love to hear from you!
Knowledge is power. Here’s to your health!
Karen M. Gutierrez, PhD, RN, Advanced Holistic Nurse- Board Certified (AHN-BC)