As a VA registered dietitian, I work with Veterans every day to help them find ways to make smart food choices and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet. I find that during the warm months of summer the thought of eating fruits and vegetables can be very inviting. Bright red tomatoes fresh off the vine, crisp cool lettuce in salads, juicy melons, and tasty berries make getting in the recommended number of servings an easy task. But, sometimes, in the winter months, consuming fruits and vegetables can be less appealing and more of a struggle.
Regardless of the season, fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Your goal should be to eat at least five servings of fruits and/or vegetables each day. Eating them regularly helps to reduce your risk of many conditions, including cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They may also help you to control your hunger and weight.
Fresh fruit, fruit canned in its own juice, or frozen fruit with no added sugar are the best choices. Try to eat whole fruit rather than drinking fruit juice. A serving of fruit is a medium piece of fruit, ½ cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, ½ cup of 100 percent juice, or ¼ cup of dried fruit.
Vegetables are low in calories and have very little fat. Choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables with no added salt. A serving of vegetables is ½ cup cooked, 1 cup raw, ½ cup of 100 percent juice, or ¼ cup dried. But watch the sodium, especially when it comes to juices.
Some of the Veterans I’ve worked with like to get their fruit and vegetable servings through snacks, which is easy and helps fill cravings between meals. This could be a piece of fresh fruit, a cup of raw vegetables – maybe with hummus or a light salad dressing, or canned fruit or a mixed fruit cup – these are both best in juice. To add a little more, you might have berries, peaches or tomatoes with cottage cheese, a banana with peanut butter, plain yogurt with berries or chopped fruit, or for a treat, a baked apple with cinnamon.
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen people make is to have fruit and/or vegetables at every meal. Many of our fast food restaurants don’t offer vegetables or fruits beyond a garnish; so, for some of our Vets, this is a big change. The HealthyPlate model emphasizes filling half of your plate with vegetables. These could be cooked, raw, or in a salad – whatever appeals to you!
One possibility is to make vegetable omelets for breakfast or add frozen blueberries to oatmeal, to easily include fruits and vegetables in the meal. Carrot sticks and an apple could also take the place of chips for lunch.
Many of our Veterans who are involved in the MOVE weight management program fill half of their dinner plate with steamed vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower. Fruits, such as tangerines, are a new favorite for dessert! Some Vets say that a hearty vegetable soup is a wintertime staple that helps keep them warm and eat more vegetables during the colder months.
It can help to retry some fruits and vegetables you haven’t had in a long time. Your taste buds change over time; sometimes, a particular vegetable you didn’t like 10, 20 or 30 years ago will taste entirely different now – and maybe you’ll love it! Something that you’ve previously disliked and counted out of your diet could become a great option.
You can learn more ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables and receive weight loss support through the MOVE program at your local VA. There are a few ways to be involved with MOVE, including group classes, home monitoring (TeleHealth), individual appointments with a dietitian and telephone support programs.
Becky Schlueter is a registered dietitian at the Lexington, Kentucky VA Medical Center. She has a certificate of training in adult weight management and has a particular focus on helping Veterans meet their weight and health goals through motivational interviewing and behavior change counseling. She is involved in the Health Disease Prevention and Promotion program, advocating for preventive methods to improve overall health and quality of life for Veterans. She works in the outpatient nutrition clinic and with the MOVE weight management program.