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Managing Diabetes Magazine - diabetes

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
A foundation for good health

12 simple ways to sneak fruits and vegetables into your diet

  1. Include a fruit with all meals, such as dried or fresh fruit in cereal and yogurt, an apple to complete your lunch, and a poached pear for your evening dessert.
  2. Pack a small bag with a variety of sliced veggies to snack on throughout the day.
  3. Start dinner with a fresh salad or soup with vegetables.
  4. Grill veggies and fruits such as zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, pineapple, peaches and mango for a tasty sensation.
  5. Add pureed vegetables to pasta sauces to add flavour and fibre.
  6. Layer sandwiches with fresh or grilled veggies such as cucumbers, tomatoes, grilled eggplant or peppers.
  7. Stuff an omelette with a variety of veggies.
  8. Keep a fruit, such as an apple or pear, in your purse or briefcase to curb the midday munchies.
  9. Use diced fruits and vegetables to make sauces and dips, such as tangy or fruity salsas.
  10. Shred vegetables into mashed potatoes, meat loaf and casseroles.
  11. Be creative with herbs, seasoned olive oil and vinegars such as balsamic, to add zest and flavour to veggies and fruits.
  12. Replace the candy bowl at the office with a fruit bowl.

You have been told to eat them since you were old enough to feed yourself. Still, are you convinced? Fruits and vegetables are the natural nutrition powerhouses in our diet. Think of them as the fuel (the energy your body needs), oil and antifreeze (vitamins, mineral and fibre) you need to make your vehicle run effectively.

Convenience is another major benefit. The original fast food, many fruits and vegetables come in their own portable packages. They are handy choices when on the go.

The sad truth is that most Canadians do not get their daily requirements of these nutritious gifts. We have many excuses – they spoil too quickly, are too expensive, take time to prepare, or don’t taste good. Read on to learn why you should fit these fabulous foods into your diet and learn to love them.

Why 5 to 10 a day?

Canada’s Food Guide recommends 5 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The range exists to help meet the diverse needs of different people. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the rule is ‘more is better.’ Try to include at least four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruits daily. Since fruits and vegetables are high in nutrition, yet low in calories, it only makes sense to make them the foundation of your diet. When planning meals, start by filling half of your plate with vegetables (at least two kinds).

Try to include a fruit or vegetable in snacks, and choose fruit for dessert to top up your daily intake.

What is in a serving?

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of daily servings listed on Canada’s Food Guide. However, a serving size is likely smaller than you think, and they add up quickly. For whole fruits and vegetables, a serving is equivalent to the size of a tennis ball or one medium orange. Chopped, frozen, fresh, or canned servings should equal half a cup. A serving of leafy vegetables such as lettuce is closer to one cup. Dried fruit is more concentrated, at one-quarter of a cup for a serving.

Half a cup of juice, preferably unsweetened, makes one serving. Juice concentrates natural sugar and is lower in fibre, making it very easy to rapidly increase sugar and calories in the diet. Most of us do better to eat fruit more rather than drinking it. Vegetable juice is not as high in sugar, but most commercial brands are very high in sodium. Choose a beverage with reduced sodium if possible.

Nutrition powerhouses

The benefits of fruits and vegetables are tremendous. Packed with healthy elements, fruits and veggies provide a wealth of nutrition including energy, fibre, water, vitamins and minerals. They also contain phytochemicals, chemicals such as antioxidants naturally produced by plants to protect against disease. Ongoing research suggests that these plant chemicals provide many health benefits.

The high water and fibre content of fruits and vegetables make them an excellent choice for managing weight since they fill us up. As a high source of fibre, they promote a healthy digestive tract, lower our risks of heart disease and cancer, and help control blood glucose levels. These natural wonders are most famous for their diverse vitamin and mineral content, including the antioxidant vitamins A and C, potassium, and folic acid. Lutein and lycopene are worth mentioning as two antioxidants that have received recent attention. See chart below for a list of the benefits of these nutrients and the best fruit and vegetable sources.

Nutrient How it Helps Source

Vitamin A

  • Aids in skin and eye health
  • Helps protect against infections and disease
Found in sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, turnip greens, kale, apricots, collard greens, cantaloupe, red peppers, winter squash, Chinese cabbage, spinach, mango, papaya, romaine lettuce, broccoli, Swiss chard

Vitamin C

  • Promotes healthy teeth and gums
  • Aids in wound healing
  • Protects against infection
  • Aids in absorbing iron from foods
Found in papaya, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi, cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew melon, mango, spinach, potato with skin, broccoli, cabbage, kale, sweet potato, tomato, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, cauliflower


  • Promotes healthy blood pressure
  • Aids in nerve function and fluid balance
Found in banana, figs, apricots, cantaloupe, oranges, avocado, potato, spinach, tomato, sweet potato, beet greens, papaya, kiwi, beets, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts

Folic Acid

  • May protect against heart disease
  • Reduces risk of birth defects such as spina bifida
Found in spinach, asparagus, broccoli, oranges, avocado, peas, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce


  • May help protect eyes from disease and damage
Found in kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli


  • May reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers
  • Aids in immune (defence) system function
Found in tomato, tomato products, watermelon

So many choices

Variety is the spice of life, and with fruits and vegetables, variety is abundant. There is no perfect fruit or vegetable. Actually, most experts agree that eating a mix of fruits and vegetables is the best way to get a good balance of the many nutrients they offer.

Brightly coloured produce such as red, orange and yellow are often higher in antioxidants, so include these on a regular basis. Green leafy vegetables also contain a wealth of healthy nutrition.

Get a good daily balance by including at least one fruit or veggie from each of the following categories - rich in vitamin A, rich in vitamin C, high in potassium, and cruciferous. (See the table on page 20 for sources.) It has been suggested that cruciferous vegetables, those from the cabbage family, help prevent many cancers. These vegetables include bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnip and radishes.

When planning meals, remember that corn, potatoes and yams are considered starches as well as vegetables. Include these vegetables as part of your healthy diet but be sure to count them as starch servings. Coconut and avocado count as a fat choice as well as a fruit. Enjoy these fruits in moderation, as the calories can add up quickly.

Fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables all have a place in our diet. In terms of nutrients, fresh and frozen are healthier choices. Be sure frozen products contain only vegetables or fruit, with no added sauces or syrups. Canned are good to keep on hand for convenience. Make sure canned fruit is packed in its own juice. Rinse canned vegetables with water to get rid of extra sodium.

An opinion on organic

Many grocery stores offer an organic selection of produce. Although they are considerably less expensive than they were in the past, they still cost more. Some studies suggest nutrients may be higher in these foods. Others have not found any difference.

Organic choices do generally contain significantly fewer pesticides than other produce, but they are not free of pesticides and can definitely harbour bacteria. You must carefully clean and prepare all produce, including organic. When considering environmental pollution and resources, organic produce is usually the better choice. Many consumers say organic foods have better flavour.

Buying organic food is a personal choice. Studies are not conclusive in terms of nutrient content. However, organic farming can be healthier for the environment.

Fitting in five or more

Fitting fruits and vegetables into your diet can be as easy as starting a meal with a vegetable soup or salad, slicing a banana on your peanut butter and toast, layering a sandwich with lettuce and bell peppers, or pureeing vegetables into your pasta sauce. The key is to keep it simple and be creative to meet your needs.

Grocery stores offer a variety of packaged produce for convenience, such as salad mixes, sliced fruit and vegetable trays, or single servings of veggies and dip. Prepare veggies or fruits in batches, or wash and slice them as soon as you bring them home so they are ready to go. Keep fruits and vegetables in view – at the front of the fridge or on the counter – ‘in sight, in mind.’

Buy a combination of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and veggies, especially if you shop once a week or less. This will meet your needs over a longer time. Eat fresh items first, then frozen. Keep canned as back up. When buying fresh, choose some that are ripe and some greener so they last longer. Taking advantage of seasonal produce lowers your cost and boosts flavour. Clip cou­pons to save on frozen or canned products.

The key to eating a healthy diet is being mindful of your choices. It is too easy to get caught up in our fast-paced convenience culture that often lacks any fruits or vegetables. Keep choices convenient and simple. Plan ahead for those crazy impossible days. Most of all – enjoy! Treat yourself to a new exotic fruit or vegetable, or share a fabulous recipe with a friend.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2019, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1    [DI_MDcd07]
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