PRODUCE - 13 Servings, the New Recommendation
Get this: Many nutrition experts and physicians today recommend eating between 5 and 13 servings of produce each day, with 13 being the desired goal. Are they kidding? The 5 servings most of us can and usually do, but more than that... especially 13? How in the world can we DO that?
There's really only one way - we build our meals around fruits and veggies. In other words, we have to practice a no-fail supermarket strategy - we simply start our shopping in the produce department and focus on the store's fresh-food perimeter. (Which means less focus on the inner sanctum of the store where all the forbidden foods are.)
Before we delve deeper into the HOWS, let's quickly look at the WHYS:
Real food (aka fruits and veggies) reduces the risk of chronic diseases dramatically.
Real food boosts the immune system - we'll stay healthier, experience far fewer colds and minor infections.
Real food trumps supplements - lots of money is saved - supplements are expensive and Physicians for Responsible Medicine and other research organizations say the long term good they do is questionable.
Real food is loaded with fiber, which can't be absorbed by the body, has no calories, is filling, and offers many health benefits.
Real food contains phyto-chemicals (found only in plants) and trace elements, substances that act as antioxidants; they protect the body from free radicals (toxic substances that damage cells and cause disease).
So now a little HOW stuff: Every wonder how much produce is enough - what IS a "serving," actually? Here's what constitutes a serving:
Fruit: 1/2 cup or one of medium size
Dried fruit: 1/4 cup
Raw leafy greens: 1 cup
Vegetables: 1/2 cup
Cooked potatoes: 1/2 cup
Cooked beans and peas: 1/2 cup
100% fruit or vegetable juice: 3/4 cup (6 oz)
Measuring is the easiest way to make sure you're eating the right amount, and enough. But if that's not convenient, it's easy to "eyeball" a portion and estimate its size. Here's what a single serving looks like:
1 cup raw leafy greens = a baseball
1/2 cup fruit, vegetables, cooked potatoes, or beans = half a baseball
1/4 cup dried fruit = a large egg
OK, I guess a half cup of this, a half cup of that, and an occasional full cup of something isn't that hard to handle - 13 servings might actually be doable. But what about the storing of all this stuff? I've thrown out too much slimy "dead" produce in my time. If you can relate, then let's look at what to do when we get the goods home.
Here's how to store, handle, and prepare fresh fruit and vegetables for maximum flavor.
Storing: Most produce should be stored unwashed, because water encourages bacterial growth and speeds deterioration. But be sure to wash it prior to use. Anything that's already been cut, peeled, chopped, or broken apart should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. (I've discovered the plastic green produce bags found in the produce department. They do a great job of lengthening the life of my produce.)
Ripen: Stone fruits, pears, bananas, avocados, and many tropical fruits will continue ripening or maturing after being picked. So store them at room temperature. Putting them in a paper bag will accelerate the process; adding an apple to the bag makes these fruits ripen even faster. But be sure to check the fruit every day, and refrigerate when ripe.
Wash: This is where we get a little sloppy, according to the FDA and USDA. They say to wash hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds prior to handling fresh produce. Who does that? Well, we can start. Then we should rinse produce in warm water (without soap or detergent), using a scrub brush to remove any surface dirt. The experts say we should be sure to wash produce even if we plan to discard the skin or rind; bacteria on the surface can be transferred to the flesh by peeling or cutting (cantaloupe is a prime example of this).
The final bit of HOW - we don't have to eat everything raw. Variety is the spice of life, and produce lends itself well to a variety of preparation methods - sauteing, steaming, stir-frying, roasting, and grilling are all terrific ways to prepare fruits and veggies.
But back to the issue of slimy and "dead" produce plaguing the crisper drawer. Even if we do store it well, ripen it to perfection, and wash wash wash before using, it doesn't all get eaten unless there's some planning ahead. And creating menus is the planning I'm talking about.
Yup, we can write out our menus by hand, but there's such a better way. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, I have to put in a plug: Now that I'm consistently using the menu feature in my Cook'n recipe organizer, I'm throwing away next to NO food - my produce is getting eaten in a timely fashion, and I'm saving money as a result. Menus - the best way to plan ahead - will save the day, will save the produce, and help us get those 13 servings into our daily diet.