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Eat more fruits and vegetables

Published June 11. 2011 09:00AM

Fact: In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed a National Action Plan to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables as a way to improve the nation's health.

Disturbing Fact: The five-year plan failed miserably. By 2010, according to the NAP results, only six percent of adults ate two cups of fruits and two and a half cups of vegetables on a daily basis, a rather modest amount the NAP designates as "the recommended intake" even though many experts feel those amounts need to be doubled to achieve optimal health.

Especially Disturbing Fact: Upon releasing the results, the CDC called upon schools, restaurants, and work sites to provide greater access to fruits and vegetables.


The reason why I find the CDC's plea "especially disturbing" deals with locus of control. Instead of criticizing American adults for not following a measure proven to improve health, the CDC provides a scapegoat three of them, in fact.

At least this misplaced blame on institutions is consistent with the CDC's misguided grading system for the NAP. American adults weren't graded; schools, restaurants, supermarkets, and the government were and they received a collective "F" for their efforts.

The CDC's apparent logic for the failing mark: Since Americans eat one third of their total calories in a typical day away from the home and those calories only account for one ninth of the fruits and vegetables ingested, it must be a lack of access to fruits and vegetables outside the home keeping 94 percent of adult Americans from ingesting four and a half cups of fruits and veggies a day.

If that's the case, the CDC has again misplaced locus of control. Adult Americans don't have to eat out as much as they do. They choose to.

In the same way school children can pack a lunch, adult workers can, too.

Packing a lunch, however, requires a bit of forethought before going to the grocery store and five minutes of time every weeknight, so it's something that those who feel pressed for time often prefer not to do. But done correctly, packing a lunch equates to a significant savings of time in the long run.

That's because packing a healthy lunch that includes fruits and veggies makes you a more efficient worker throughout the day and gives you the option to work through lunch. It provides more energy for whatever you do after the work day, as well.

Moreover, a steady intake of fruits and veggies just might provide what your body needs to effectively fight a cold or the flu, keeping a stuffy nose or a slight fever from developing into something that leads to time off from work and two weeks of lethargy.

While packing a lunch might be the best way to get more fruits and veggies into your body, it's not the only way. Even those determined to eat on the go can do so and get plenty of fruits and veggies with a bit of planning.

Those who need to eat breakfast away from home should bypass the fast food restaurant and stop at a convenience store, most of which have individual bananas, apples, and oranges for sale year-round. During the summer, some even offer single servings of sliced berries and and melons.

Since most major supermarkets have fruit as a selection at their salad bars, you can go there on the way to work and buy breakfast and lunch in one trip though you will save a significant amount of money if buy in these items in the produce section prior to and prepare the meals the night before.

For those instances when your job requires you to eat at a restaurant, choose the salad bar. Just load up on the leafy greens and keep the high-calorie items grated cheese, macaroni and potato salad off your plate and use a low-calorie dressing.

Better yet, order a la carte. For instance, two servings of steamed broccoli and a baked potato or two are definitely healthy, high in complex carbs and fiber, and should hold you over until you can eat something protein-based at snack time.

If you're the type who just has to have meat with a meal, substitute a small side order of spaghetti and meatballs for the baked potatoes.

While all of these suggestions are admittedly obvious, there's a sound reason to suggest them: not many people presently employ them.

So now the question becomes "Why not?"

One possible answer is that people still view eating out at a restaurant as an indulgence, a way to treat themselves to the sorts of foods they generally do not eat at home. That's what my family did when I was a boy, and that strategy worked primarily because my family only ate out every other Friday, my father's pay day.

Today, some families eat out more than they eat in, and, since most people don't think of fresh fruit or steamed vegetables as an indulgence, that way of thinking keeps them from ordering those items and probably keeps them from maintaining an optimal weight.

Changing this pattern is relatively easy. It just requires an increased awareness.

Changing the pattern that creates the other possible answer isn't so easy. It requires changing a belief.

There still are people who believe a calorie is a calorie and consuming a sufficient amount of them is all that is needed. Next week's column will do its best to make an overused cliché sound fresh.

You are what you eat.

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