According to the most recent nutrition surveys, the majority of Americans fall short when it comes to hitting the recommended marks for the three most important food groups: fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Picture this: If you add up all the fruit and veggie servings the average American should have had over a lifetime that they did not eat, they would fill an entire football field. That’s a lot of missing nutrients!
If you tend to fall short of the targets, which are two daily servings of fruit, and three each for veggies and whole grains, start by focusing on adding one extra serving in each category per day. If you’re consistent, just these three changes can snowball into huge health benefits over time:
Fruit: Statistics show that roughly 70 percent of U.S. adults don’t eat the recommended two servings daily, but squeezing in just one more can lower your risk of cancer by 6 percent.
Simple strategy: Make fruit the first thing you eat every morning. Instead of reaching for coffee first, munch on a mini-banana or even a golf ball-sized portion of unsweetened dried fruit, which is the equivalent of one cup fresh fruit. One of my favorites is dried figs – just two provide about 20 percent of all the fiber you need for the day and they’re chock full of minerals including calcium and magnesium.
Veggies: When it comes to vegetables, almost 75 percent of adults don't down the minimum recommended three servings, and just one additional portion can lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 11 percent.
Simple strategy: Stock the freezer with vegetables such as frozen spinach, broccoli and green beans, and make them a staple of every dinner meal. Just steam or microwave and season by tossing with a small dollop of pesto (basil, sundried tomato, roasted red pepper, artichoke) or misting with an herb-infused oil. One of my favorite quick combos is broccoli with sun-dried tomato pesto. Yum!
Whole Grains: The average intake of whole grains is less than one serving per day and fewer than 10 percent of Americans eat the recommended minimum three daily servings, but adding just one more can reduce the odds of developing high blood pressure by 4 percent.
Simple strategy: Keep puffed whole grains on hand, like Arrowhead Mills puffed brown rice, kamut, millet, whole wheat, and corn. You can eat them as a cold cereal, fold them into yogurt, toss in a baggie with nuts and dried fruit for an on-the-go snack, or crush and use as a crust or topping in place of bread crumbs.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and . Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.