Are you Getting Enough Fruits and Veggies?

A lot of people may think they get enough fruit and veggies over the day, but they may fall short of the recommendations.  To start off, what are the recommendations? In general, the more produce the better, but check these charts for your age and sex to get specific recommendations.

Daily Fruit Needs
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Daily Vegetable Needs
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These recommendations are pretty clear by putting them into “cups” rather than a number of servings.  However, there are 2 exceptions.  When it comes to dried fruit 1/2 a cup counts as a full cup.  The volume is smaller just because they are dehydrated, but they retain their nutrition.  The second difference is with leafy green vegetables.  This includes lettuce, spinach, kale and other salad mixes.  Because they are so light, 2 measured cups equals a cup serving.  Use the below images that I got from PopSugar to help you visualize your actual needs.  It may not be as daunting as  you think,

Fruit ServingFruit Servings 3 Fruit Serving 2

I couldn’t find similar images of vegetables but just grab some measuring cups and measure it out.

If these charts and images make you realize that your intake is on the low side, you are in good company.  The CDC conducted a study and found that on average, only 32.5% of Americans meet their needs for fruit and only 26.3% meet their vegetable needs.  These numbers have actually gotten worse since 2000.  Statistically, the highest intake is found in women, adults over 65, and in those with a college degree.  Surprisingly, fruit intake is very similar across income brackets (vegetable intake is highest in those with salaries above $50,000).  This shows that social factors and education may be more important than income.

But you may ask, why is it important?  Well for your personal health, it is probably the best thing you can do.  Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in salt, fat, and calorie making it easier to lose weight or stay where you are.  It has also been shown that a diet high in produce can reduce your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, stroke, lower your blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and kidney stones.  They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, water, and phytonutrients.  All of these are critically important for your body to function properly and at its highest level.

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow up post on how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your daily life.

Do you struggle with your produce intake?


Making a Worth While Salad

Salads have the reputation of being the go to food for health and dieting.  But we frequently hear the warning, “Beware at restaurants!” because in all honesty, purchased salads lack the nutritional value that should be inherent in a bowl of vegetables.  More often than not, when perusing the salad section of the menu, I will see that the composition is greens, tomato, maybe carrots – and then the add-ons begin.  Chicken, bacon, cheese, dressing, candied nuts etc.

As someone who typically brings a salad for lunch, I am just annoyed that no one in food service (save for maybe a vegetarian or uber health conscious establishment) can create a tasty salad that is primarily vegetables.  Don’t get me wrong, I think adding some extras are fine, but the base needs to be improved.  So here are my guidelines for making an appropriate salad at home.

  1. Should include a minimum of 5 vegetables.  There is more in this world than tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots!
  2. Iceberg lettuce doesn’t count.  It has so little nutritional value, its primary contribution is hydration.  Just have a glass of water and call it a day.
  3. Try and have a minimum of 1/4 cup of each vegetable chosen, with closer to 1 cup for leafy greens.  This way you can get a substantial amount of nutrients from each ingredient.
  4. Keep it colorful! Different colors signify different vitamins so by diversifying your choices, you can maximize the health benefit.
  5. Once you have done the above, feel free to add chicken, bacon or cheese, but limit it to one serving.  Salads are mixed dishes so keep the ratio proportional.

In order to adhere to these rules, you may need to break out of some old habits.  Here are my top 10 vegetables to try.

Alfalfa  1. Alfalfa Sprouts

These actually contain protein in addition to fiber and vitamin K.  They also offer a nice stringy texture in comparison to the typical crunch.

babycorn  2. Baby Corn

Growing up, my mom used baby corn in stir fry and I loved the novelty and the flavor.  When I was home recently, I scoured the cabinets trying to get a 5th veggie for my salad and I stumbled upon a can of baby corn, tossed it in and it worked very well.

Beets  3. Beets

This has been a relatively new addition to my vegetable repertoire.  I tried a grapefruit/beet salad and realized that beets are much more mild that I had originally thought.  The vibrant color makes your meal so visually pleasing.  They are also a good source of folate and manganese.

Bell Peppers  4. Bell Peppers

Known for vitamin C, these peppers come in 4 colors so you can mix and match to give your plate some color.  Examine what you have and fill in the gaps to get the most nutritional value from your meal.

Broccoli and Cauliflower  5. Broccoli and Cauliflower

Take these from the veggie tray to your bowl.  You can try them raw or cooked (blanching is a good way to soften them a little while preserving their nutrients).  These are both excellent sources of vitamin C and protein, and good sources of vitamin K and fiber.

Celery  6. Celery

CRUNCH! My favorite thing about celery.  It has a reputation for being a diet food, but it doesn’t feel like it when its mixed in with everything else.

Mushrooms7. Mushrooms

These fungi provide protein and B vitamins.  White mushrooms tend to be more mild, start with those first if you don’t usually eat them.

Onions8. Onions

And I’m not talking about French’s onions.  Regular diced or sliced onions offer B6 and fiber.

Radishes9. Radishes

These pretty little veggies will add a pop of pink to your salad.

water chestnuts10. Water Chestnuts

A good source of B6 and copper.  Purchase a can and its easy to add them without much prep time needed.


Now doesn’t this all sound much more exciting?  To make it easier on yourself, you can get plenty of these items canned, frozen, or pre-cut.  All these items offer vitamins, minerals and fiber while remaining lower in calories.  By establishing a good base, you can keep your salad healthy, even if you do choose to top it with some more ‘fun’ items.  Personally, I add a tablespoon of bacon bits, sliced deli turkey and honey mustard dressing to pull it all together and have a complete meal.

Try out a few of these veggies in addition to some of the staples like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers to see what you like.  You will never know until you try it!

What are your favorite salad vegetables?

Veggies on the Go – Loaded Carrot Muffins

Time for some rainy day baking.  We had a storm hit the Maryland area, so I took it as an opportunity to try out another way to bake with vegetables.  My last recipe was Zucchini Bread which was a total success so I am confident I can incorporate another veggie: carrots.

I found a great recipe for fully loaded muffins.  This is a great way to have some vegetables available on the go that will still be delicious in the morning.

Loaded Carrot Muffins

IngredientsCarrot Muffin Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 apple – peeled and shredded
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups of carrots worked out to be 4 medium sized carrots.  I grated them by hand which took about 20 minutes.  If you have a food processor, I would recommend using it.  You can also purchase pre-shredded carrots if time is an issue.  The apple was much easier to grate and only took a few moments.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease muffin tin or line with baking cups.
  2. Peel and grate carrots and apple into a bowl.  Add raisins, walnuts, and coconut.

Carrot Muffin Collage 2

  1. In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  2. Combine the two bowls, mixing thoroughly,
  3. In another bowl, beat together the eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla.  Add to other mixture and stir evenly.

Carrot Muffin Collage 3

  1. Pour into tins and bake for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before removing.

Carrot Muffin Collage

Nutritional Facts: Makes 16 servings.  Calories: 314, Fat: 18g, Cholesterol: 30mg, Sodium: 289mg, Potassium: 150mg, Carbohydrate: 35.5g, Fiber: 1.8g, Sugar: 20.7g, Protein: 3.6g, Vitamin A: 34%, Vitamin E: 15.5%, Folate: 10%, Manganese: 17%, Thiamin: 10.4%

These are definitely not a low calorie muffin.  Because there are so many different add-ins, they have a lot of nutritional value (fiber, protein, vitamin A, E, and Folate) but that also means they have a solid amount of calories.  I would have this as a breakfast by itself or with a piece of fruit.  If your running late, this would work well to eat in the car.  They turned out really well.  Nice and moist with good flavor. They have a density to them that makes me think they wont get crumby and make a mess.  And because they contain fat, carbs and protein, they are pretty filling and satisfying.

What is your favorite muffin recipe?

Veggies at Breakfast Time – Zucchini Bread

In honor of National Nutrition Month, I chose a special topic – eating vegetables at breakfast.  Frequently, I feel that vegetables get overlooked in the morning and people tend to gravitate towards fruit.  For varieties’ sake, I sought out ways to add different veggies into your morning routine.  My first solution: Zucchini Bread.  Before this, I had actually never tried zucchini bread, so this was a big experiment.  Here is how I made it:

Zucchini Bread

IngredientsZucchini Ingredients
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups of zucchini works out to be about one large zucchini.  Its relatively soft, so it was very easy to grate quickly.

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease two 8 x 4 pans.  You can also use 8 x 8 pans for a shallower bread that is sized more like a brownie. 
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar.
  4. Add the dry mixture, slowly mixing it in.  Beat well.
  5. Stir in zucchini and walnuts if desired (Alternative: sprinkle walnuts on top before baking)
  6. Pour into pans and bake for 40-60 minutes.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes for cutting.

Zucchini Bread CollageZucchini Bread Collage 2

This recipe turned out so well!  It was so moist and flavorful and the nuts gave it a great texture.  You definitely can not tell that there is zucchini in it so I would stay it is a ‘”stealth health” success.  I could see kids really liking this, so if you have a picky eater on your hands, you now have one more tool to get in all their servings of fruits and vegetables. 

Nutritional Facts: Servings 24, Calories: 255, Fat: 13.2, Sodium 180mg, Carbohydrate: 32.3g, Fiber: 1.1g, Protein: 3.3g, Vitamin E: 10.3%, Folate: 9.8%, Magnanese: 17.6%

Take a slice of this as breakfast on the go or have it as a side.  It is calorie dense, so it could be a full breakfast.  If you want to pump up the nutrition, sub in some whole wheat flour, reduce the sugar and add more zucchini.  Because this is baking, I wouldn’t make any drastic shifts but tweaks here and there can definitely improve the nutrition content.

More recipes to come this week. Enjoy!

How do you work vegetables into your day?