Now is a good time to squeeze more fruit, ve­g­ies into the diet

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - SHARON NA­TOLI

EIGHTY-five per cent of Aus­tralians are fall­ing short of the rec­om­mended amount of veg­eta­bles daily, and 45 per cent aren’t eat­ing enough fruit. That’s ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of a na­tional sur­vey of 16,000 peo­ple, pub­lished on­line last month by the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Obe­sity . While gov­ern­ment healthy eat­ing cam­paigns aimed at pro­mot­ing in­creased in­take of fruit and veg­eta­bles are start­ing to make pos­i­tive in­roads in some Aus­tralian states, there’s still a long way to go to meet daily tar­gets for op­ti­mal health and dis­ease pre­ven­tion. With fresh spring pro­duce pack­ing green­gro­cers’ shelves, now is a great time to start squeez­ing more fruit and veg into your day.

Many Aus­tralians are aware of the im­por­tance of eat­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles. Sur­veys show that when asked what re­cent changes they have made to im­prove the health­i­ness of their di­ets, four of the top eight re­sponses are eat­ing more broc­coli, green leafy veg­eta­bles and carrots, and drink­ing more fruit and veg­etable juices fea­ture. How­ever, de­spite th­ese pos­i­tive signs and the fact that at least 92 per cent of Aus­tralians be­lieve their over­all diet is ex­tremely or very healthy, most peo­ple are still a long way from rec­om­mended in­take lev­els. A sig­nif­i­cant rift ex­ists be­tween per­cep­tion and re­al­ity when it comes to as­sess­ing fruit and veg­etable in­take.

For op­ti­mal health, the rec­om­men­da­tion is to eat daily at least five serv­ings of veg­eta­bles (one serve equals half a cup of chopped veg­eta­bles, or one cup of salad) and two serv­ings of fruit (one serve is equal to one av­er­age piece, or two small pieces). Fresh, frozen, dried and canned all count to­ward the rec­om­mended five serves of veg­eta­bles and two serves of fruit.

To meet th­ese rec­om­men­da­tions an in­di­vid­ual needs to eat a piece of fruit with break­fast and one with lunch, a medium bowl of salad with lunch and half a din­ner plate cov­ered with veg­eta­bles in the evening.

Sounds easy — so why are we so far away from achiev­ing op­ti­mal in­takes, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to veg­eta­bles?

Re­search con­ducted in Vic­to­ria has found the bar­ri­ers to fruit and veg­etable in­take are many, in­clud­ing be­ing unfamiliar with serv­ing rec­om­men­da­tions, per­cep­tions that veg­eta­bles are eaten only with evening meals, pref­er­ence for eat­ing meat, be­liev­ing that rec­om­mended quan­ti­ties are too big, and a lack of prepa­ra­tion time.

The re­searchers of this study sug­gested pos­si­ble ways to help peo­ple eat more fruit and veg­eta­bles — ed­u­ca­tion about rec­om­mended num­ber and size of serv­ings, en­cour­age­ment to spread fruit and veg­etable con­sump­tion over the day, and ideas to in­crease the sen­sory ap­peal of fruit and veg­eta­bles.

To ad­dress some of th­ese bar­ri­ers, start eat­ing fruit and veg early in the day — and keep go­ing. Try tomato on toast or fruit sliced onto ce­real, pack fruit and veg for snacks, and pre­pare sal­ads the day be­fore so they’re ready to take to work the fol­low­ing day.

Add olive oil, lemon juice, herbs or spices to in­crease the ap­peal of steamed veg­eta­bles, or throw an ex­tra hand­ful into cur­ries, stir fries, pasta sauces and other mixed dishes. Keep fruit and veg at the top of your think­ing and they will soon be­come a habit. Reach­ing the rec­om­mended tar­get will be­come eas­ier and your health will ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cantly. Sharon Na­toli is an ac­cred­ited di­eti­tian and di­rec­tor of Food & Nu­tri­tion Aus­tralia

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