Aging Well: Make fruits and vegetables a priority |

Aging Well: Make fruits and vegetables a priority

Tamera Manzanares

Editor's note: This article originally was published Sept. 20, 2010. It has been updated for accuracy.

The message from health organizations about eating fruits and vegetables is straightforward: More, more, more.

Americans are not getting enough nutrient and fiber-rich produce, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2009, only 33 percent of Americans ate fruit twice or more per day, and only about 26 percent of people ate vegetables three or more times per day.

Individuals should eat about nine servings or almost five cups of fruits and vegetables per day based on a 2,000 calorie diet, according to 2005 dietary guidelines.

In addition to being low in calories, various fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients needed by our bodies, including calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A and C.

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Fruits and vegetables are significant sources of indigestible fiber needed for healthy digestion. Studies suggest that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables also lowers a person's risk of heart disease, stroke and possibly some cancers.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is just as important as eating enough.

This isn't hard, especially if a person thinks outside the box, does a little research and, most importantly, doesn't get stuck in the fruit and veggie doldrums.

There are hundreds of culinary fruits and vegetables. While some are exotic and rarely pop up in the local grocery store, we might pass up available items because they are unfamiliar or we don't how they should be cooked.

A quick Internet recipe search or recipe book can remedy that and even surprise us with the ease of preparing almost all produce.

Don't be overwhelmed

Choose the simplest preparation and, once familiar with a fruit or vegetable's taste and texture, experiment with cooking methods and recipes.

Roasting, grilling, stewing, sauteing, blanching, boiling, steaming and baking are healthy ways to cook produce.

Be creative

Fruit doesn't have to be eaten raw or from a can. Try slicing a peach in half and baking with honey and pecans or boiling apples and making your own healthy applesauce.

Vegetables don't have to be bland or a sidekick to meat. Many vegetables are flavorful and hearty enough to take center stage, especially when prepared with healthy oils, seasonings, whole grains and proteins such as nuts and beans.

Vegetable casserole with sliced carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, zucchini and tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and topped with Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper is just one of many options.

Italian, Indian, Asian and other ethnic recipes are great places to find unique and flavorful ways to prepare vegetables and fruit.

It's easy to add more fruits and vegetables into the diet of a person who doesn't like to or have time to cook.

Keep it simple

Put fresh fruit where you can see it. Add berries to your oatmeal or sliced bananas on top of toast and peanut butter. Cut up vegetables and divide into baggies or containers for easy snacks and lunches. Throw some extra vegetables into a burrito, omelet or on a pizza.

When fresh produce is expensive or uninspiring, try frozen, canned, dried and juiced versions which also are nutritious. Most frozen and canned foods are processed within hours of harvest preserving flavor and nutrition.

Use a keen buyer's eye when buying processed fruits and vegetables to avoid added sugars or sodium.

Investing in a juicer, food dehydrator or learning to can at home can reduce the long-term cost of healthy and sometimes expensive forms of fruits and vegetables.

This article contains information from, a service of the Produce for Better Health Foundation; and the Nutrition Source from the Harvard School of Public Health,

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. Visit or call 970-871-7606.

On a budget

■ Plan meals and recipes around seasonal and local produce.

■ Scan grocery store circulars for deals on fresh, frozen and canned produce.

■ Take advantage of sales on fresh produce. Buy extra and freeze.

■ Refrigerate or freeze uneaten portions of fresh vegetables. Incorporate into omelets, burritos, soups or a stir fry.

■ Try using more vegetables and less meat, which often is more expensive, in favorite dishes. Use beans for low-cost protein.

■ Limit or avoid expensive snack foods, desserts and soft drinks that provide little or no nutrition for your money.

■ Store fruits and vegetables so they don’t go to waste. In general, use fresh produce within a few days and frozen produce within six months.

■ Don’t shop when you’re hungry. You’re less likely to look for the best deal.

■ Consider buying frozen or canned organic produce and prioritizing organic purchases to items that tend to have highest pesticide residues. Those include celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale/collard greens, potatoes and imported grapes.

■ Plant a garden or participate in a community garden.

■ Consider purchasing a share of organic fruits and vegetables (and other products) from farms in Colorado. The upfront cost is expensive, but might be the same or less than you would spend throughout the season. Plus, you are supporting nearby farmers and sustainable farming practices.

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