How to eat more vegetables — a concern you may have in the back of your mind most days. We all know we should be eating a lot of fruits and vegetables—but hardly anyone does. Less than 10 percent of Americans meet the government’s guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption—and as you’ll see, those guidelines may even be a bit low.
The odds are, you aren’t eating enough produce either. Here’s how to eat more fruits and vegetables—and enjoy eating them.
How Much Produce Should You Be Eating?
You’re probably well aware that eating more fruits and vegetables improves your cardiovascular health. What you might not have know is that it has also been demonstrated to improve mental health.
The United States government recommends that adults consume three cups per day of non-starchy vegetables, and two cups per day of fruit. Canada goes even further, recommending 7–8 servings per day of fruits and vegetables, combined.
Those numbers should actually be treated as bare minimums, particularly for people who exercise a lot. There is substantial evidence that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better. Even for sedentary people, the benefits continue up to at least 600 grams per day of vegetables and 300 grams per day of fruits, and probably even further. People who exercise a lot would presumably benefit from higher intakes due to their greater nutrient demands. Here are five tips to help you boost your intake.
How to Eat More Vegetables #1: First Course
Perhaps the simplest thing you can do to eat more fruits and vegetables is to start with them. In any given meal, fill up on fruits and vegetables first. Once you start to get tired of them, move on to the other contents of the meal.
Toward the end of the meal, eat some more fruits and vegetables. You’ll likely find your appetite for them has come back. That’s because your appetite is driven in part by variety; you get tired of eating the same food after a while, but it becomes appealing again after you eat something else. Speaking of variety . . .
How to Eat More Vegetables #2: Variety
Another trick you can use to eat more fruits and vegetables is to have more of them available at any given meal. That is, not just more of the same type, but more different types of produce.
Research shows that when the variety of foods in a meal is increased, the total amount of food eaten goes up—a lot. If you go from having one type of vegetable per meal to having several types of vegetables plus a side of fruit in each meal, you may be able to double your fruit and vegetable intake for that meal.
Crucially, this works because variety makes you want to eat more—so this trick makes you enjoy eating fruits and vegetables.
How to Eat More Vegetables #3: Repeat
This may seem to contradict the last item, but it doesn’t—more food variety within each meal makes you eat more, but you also tend to eat more when eating familiar foods. Thus, you can gradually increase your appetite for fruits and vegetables by eating the same type of produce consistently.
This preference for familiar over unfamiliar foods does vary from one person to the next though—in that respect, it resembles a personality trait. Some people are neophobic, meaning they avoid unfamiliar foods, while other are neophilic, meaning they enjoy novelty. This tactic works best for neophobic eaters, while particularly adventurous eaters may not benefit from it. Most people have at least some preference for familiar foods, though—even adventurous eaters have their favorites.
As a simple guideline, pick out a few types of produce—say, six to eight types of vegetable and three to five types of fruit—and get in the habit of eating each of them at least once a week, if not more.
How to Eat More Vegetables #4: Snack Overhaul
Between-meal snacking is generally seen as a bad habit. And for the most part it is—but that’s because people mostly snack on unhealthy foods. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Keep a few “snackable” fruits and vegetables around and ready to eat. Good examples are apples, berries, or carrot and celery sticks. Make these your only allowable between-meal snacks, but allow yourself to snack on them as desired.
How to Eat More Vegetables #5: Flavor Up
Appetite is driven largely by our senses of smell and taste—indeed, this is part of why we like variety. Smelling food kick-starts your appetite and digestive process, and you will be hungrier if your food has a stronger smell. You will also get full more slowly if the food you’re eating is more flavorful.
You can take advantage of this by enhancing the smell and flavor of the produce you eat. This is usually not necessary for fruits, other than non-sugary fruits like avocados and tomatoes, because most fruit is sweet—and people like sweetness. It is far more helpful with vegetables, which are usually quite bland to begin with.
Start flavoring your vegetables with spices like pepper, celery salt, paprika, coriander, and garlic. Use a variety of spices, stop to smell the vegetables before you eat them, and take the time to savor the flavor as you’re eating them. All of this will make you want to eat more vegetables.
By combining all five of these tactics, most people can triple their fruit and vegetable consumption—and exceed the minimum guidelines set by the USDA. And when you eat more fruits and vegetables, you’ll feel better, live longer, and be a better athlete.