How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Improve Your Health

Most people are aware of the high nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, but not many actually make the effort of incorporating these foods into their daily diet. Some might say they are too busy to prepare healthy meals.

But fruits and vegetables actually don't need much preparation. In fact, it would probably take more time to order and wait for your pizza than it is to prepare a healthy fruit and vegetable salad for you and your family.

One of the great qualities of fruits and vegetables is that thet contain a lot of strong antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart diseases. These chemicals can even make you look several years younger by revitalizing your body and doing wonders for your skin.

Additionally, fruits and vegetables contain dozens of micronutrients that boost overall health, none of which can be found in even the most complete vitamin supplements.

Smart Ways of Selecting Fruits and Vegetables

* Obviously, fresh fruits and vegetables are the best. The vitamins and minerals are still intact in these, compared to processed or dried products that have lost most of their nutritional content.

* You do need to purchase canned fruits especially when you need something that is off season. In this case, choose those packed in water or juice instead of the ones in heavy syrup.

* Generally, fruits and vegetables of the same color offer the same nutrients. To give an example, leafy greens contain calcium and ascorbic acid while yellow and orange fruits contain beta-carotene. For a well-rounded selection, choose fruits and vegetables with varying colors.

* Avoid overcooking vegetables. If you can't eat them raw, just steam them for a short time in order to preserve as much of the nutrients as possible.

* Instead of buttering your vegetables, serve them with yogurt or fresh fruit. Not only will this be a delightful meal, but it will be more nutritious as well.

Getting the Servings Right

The health department recommends that we consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. Unless you are a nutritionist or dietitian, this kind of measurement can be too subjective.

To make things clear, here are samples of what one serving should look like:

1 moderately sized fruit like a pear, a banana or a peach

1 slice of pineapple, watermelon or papaya

2 small fruits, like a plum or guava

1 cup of really small fruits like berries or grapes.

1/2 cup of assorted fresh fruits

1/2 cup of fruits preserved in water or juice

1/2 cup of dried fruit

1/2 cup of freshly squeezed fruit juice

1/2 cup of processed or preserved vegetables

1 small plate of fresh vegetable salad

Although the general recommendation for fruits and vegetables is five servings a day, you can have additional health benefits if you can consume much more than this. With the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available, it's quite easy to increase your intake. All it takes is a little bit of planning and smart shopping.

Here are a few more tips on how to use fruits and vegetables to improve your health:

* Stock up on wholesome snack alternatives such as carrot sticks.

* A bowl of fresh fruit is not just a decorative addition to the kitchen, but also a good, nutritious snack option.

* Substitute a glass of fresh fruit juice for your morning coffee.

* Sip a bowl of hot veggie broth instead of the usual hot chocolate drink during cold weather.

* Make fresh vegetable and fruit salads a part of your daily diet and use whatever is in season.

* Dried fruits like mangoes and apricots make for excellent snacks.

* Use a variety of vegetables such as bean sprouts and cucumbers to liven up your ordinary BLT sandwich.

* Add a sprinkling of minced vegetables to meat dishes for added nutrition.

* Serve 2-3 servings of vegetable dishes for dinner.

* Experiment with new vegetable recipes regularly.

* Serve fruit kebabs during your next barbecue.

* Bake some fruit tarts and pies for desserts or snacks.