I’ve been helping a friend switch his diet from one focused on fast food to one that includes more plant-based foods. As we work together, I see some of the challenges many people face as they try to “eat healthier.”
We all hear the message to choose healthier foods, but if you have never known what those look like, how would you know what to choose? Our friend was raised in a place where fresh fruit was rare and vegetables were nearly always cooked.
In the United States, we have a different problem. Variety. The most commonly consumed vegetables are potatoes, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, carrots and corn.
Americans consumed 48.3 pounds of potatoes, 28.3 pounds of tomatoes, and 7.7 pounds of onions per person in 2015. The majority of the potatoes eaten were in the form of frozen potatoes or fries. Many of the tomatoes were in the form of pizza sauce.
The amount of lettuce, carrots and corn is far less than 7 pounds per person per year.1,2
By way of comparison, on a plant-based diet my husband and I each consume at least 2 pounds of lettuce, corn and carrots per month. And those are just two of the vegetables we eat.
It’s not any better for fruit for most Americans. The most commonly consumed fruits in the United States are apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, strawberries and watermelon.
Unfortunately, the majority of the apples are consumed in the form of juice, at 14 pounds of apples (with only 10.7 pounds of apples actually eaten whole). Most of the oranges were consumed in the form of juice as well, and the grapes, strawberries and watermelon combined were less than 15 pounds per person per year.3,4
Again, by way of comparison, my husband and I each ate about 25 pounds of peaches in just one month last year. That doesn’t include the variety of other fruits and vegetables we ate that month, and eat every month.
That’s why it’s so fascinating for me to help our friend. I don’t understand someone who likes only apples and who doesn’t typically eat raw vegetables (or any vegetables on a given day). I’m excited to help him not just because he’s learning—and getting healthier in the process—but because I’m learning, too.
One thing I’ve learned is if you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, start with what you like, and add something new every week. For example, this week we encouraged our friend to try carrot chips, which are simply dried carrot slices with no oils or other additives or preservatives. They are a great healthy snack.
We also encouraged him to try sweet potatoes baked, instead of just in stews, and cherries (which he says he hates) in a cocoa-cherry smoothie. He also tried kale raw in a salad, and also cooked, in a stew.
He was surprised to find he liked everything but the baked sweet potatoes. He was the most surprised by the cherries. If you’re like our friend and want to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, keep trying the things you say you don’t like in different formats. If you didn’t like something raw, try it cooked and vice versa. If you don’t like a vegetable boiled, try it roasted or stewed. Whatever you do, eat your vegetables!*
*If you want a fun challenge to eat more fruits and vegetables, check out the Daily Dozen Challenge, a great way to join others who are trying to include more of what’s best for them in their diets.