Missourians Urged To Put More Produce On Plates

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When it comes to good health and nutrition, few things are more important than fruits and vegetables.

September is National Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Month, and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is urging Missourians to improve their health by putting more produce on their plates. The theme for this year’s event is “Get Smart.”

“Although most people know that fruits and vegetables are good for them, they may not realize how vital they are to good health,” said Patricia Kramer, a registered dietitian at the state health department. “We are encouraging people to ‘get smart’ about healthy eating and learn more about how many fruits and vegetables they need to eat every day.”

According to the latest data for Missourians, only one in four adults eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. In children, less than one in five get the recommended amounts.

While recommendations vary depending on a person’s age and level of physical activity, health experts advise that most adult women need between four and five cups of fruits and vegetables and most adult men need about five to six cups every day. The daily amount recommended for children increases with age – from two cups of fruits and vegetables for children age 2 and 3 to five to six cups for teenagers age 14 to 18, depending on gender and physical activity level.

“The most important advice we can offer about fruits and vegetables is that more matters,” Kramer added. “By adding more fruits and vegetables to their meals and snacks, people can improve their health.”

Kramer also said it is important to “get smart” about what counts as a fruit or vegetable. Many people believe that only fresh fruits and vegetables count toward their daily intake, but all forms count, Kramer explained, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent juice.

The best way to get enough fruits and vegetables to is to include them in meals and snacks throughout the day. For example:

* At breakfast, top a bowl of whole grain cereal with a small sliced banana or a half-cup of strawberries.

* Have a small apple for a mid-morning snack.

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* For lunch, eat a salad made with two cups of lettuce and a cup of other vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and carrots.

* At dinner, have a small baked sweet potato, a half cup of green beans or broccoli and a half cup of fruit for dessert.

The total count for the day: five cups of fruits and vegetables.

Eating a variety of produce offers a wide range of nutrients necessary for good health. Fruits and vegetables can help prevent obesity and a number of serious diseases including diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer. They also help promote healing, fight infection and keep eyes in good working order.

Some of the most important nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables include:

* Vitamin A: Carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and spinach are high in vitamin A, which helps keep eyes and skin healthy and provides protection against infection.

* Vitamin C: Red and green peppers, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, oranges and kale are rich in vitamin C, which helps wounds and cuts heal and keeps teeth and gums healthy.

* Potassium: Potatoes, lima beans, white beans, cooked greens, and tomato paste and puree are high in potassium – important in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

* Folate: Cooked spinach, black-eyed peas and asparagus have healthy amounts of folate, which can reduce a woman’s chance of having a baby with a birth defect.

* Fiber: Most types of beans – including kidney, black, white, navy and lima beans – as well as soybeans, split peas, chick peas, lentils and artichokes are a good source of fiber and can decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.

“At meal time, you should fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables,” Kramer said. “There are so many to choose from you shouldn’t have trouble finding plenty you and your family will like.”

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