Do you eat from your garden?

by Lt. Col. Brenda D. White, MS, RDN, LD.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center 
Maintaining a healthy, balanced, and sustainable diet helps build wellness across many areas of health.  — Graphic by Scott Speaks/Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center 

March was National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Beyond the Table.” Do you eat from your garden? If your answer is…, “Yeah, right. NO! Most likely, if you are like me, you don’t have the time or the patience to wait on your fruit and vegetables to grow. However, consuming a variety of fruit and vegetables daily decreases your risk of various diseases (i.e., heart disease, cancer, etc.) and other disorders/ailments. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and those wonderful phytochemicals — immune properties/antioxidants.

If I’m being honest, I’d eat Idaho potatoes (if longterm, poor health wasn’t a concern!) three times a day — fried, steamed, boiled, or in a chip. Two of my favorite healthy produce items are Pink Lady apples and fresh or frozen broccoli steamed because they are loaded with Vitamins A and C, iron, and taste delicious.

It is recommended that half of your plate be dedicated to fruit and vegetables. So, does your plate usually contain half or is it one-fourth or less or no vegetables at all? When you shop for fruit and/or vegetables, do you know what to buy and what nutrients they contain. Many grocery stores now have the nutrition information about the fruit or vegetable on cards/tabs near the produce. Most fruit and vegetables contain fiber (soluble/insoluble), key nutrients such as Vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, folic acid, and a variety of other nutrients which are good for the body.

Have you ever noticed when you shop for groceries, most of the foods your body needs for nourishment/sustainment are located on the outskirts of the store, in a full circle? Take a look the next time you shop at the commissary or local grocery; your fruit and vegetables will be located on the outskirts of the store, to your left or your right. The aisles are where you will find most of the enticing items such as your chips, dips, sodas, cereals, candy and prepared or processed dry box foods/ingredients (i.e., macaroni and cheese, Hamburger Helper, etc.). Next time, try to bypass those aisles until you’ve selected and loaded your cart with fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much healthier you and your grocery cart will look!

If you are in a rush, canned vegetables are acceptable but, fresh/frozen retain more nutritional value. Choose a variety of vegetables such as greens, broccoli, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, etc. A serving is ½ cup if the vegetable has been cooked, but if served raw, then 1 cup is a serving. Non-starchy vegetables have about 5 to 25 calories per serving; starchy vegetables (i.e., my Idaho potato) will contain about 80 calories per serving. Eat your vegetables as a snack or/and a part of your daily plate serving. I normally combine my vegetables during cooking. I add a tablespoon of olive oil and mixed seasonings to blackeye peas and green beans or vegan meat-like crumbles with hominy corn or lima beans. Remember cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, etc. have about 5 calories per servings.

Fresh or dried fruit such as apples, oranges, pears, berries, peaches, nectarines, avocados are your best choice. Avocados are quite tasty, but often get a “bad rep” due to their high-fat content; remember the fat is monounsaturated and is good for your heart. Fresh is better, but juices are also a good choice. So, if you drink juice as a fruit substitute, ensure you are consuming 100 percent juice. Don’t be fooled by juices that advertise 100 percent Vitamin C – as they might be “loaded” with corn syrup. A serving of fruit can range from one small or medium piece of fruit to ¼ to ½ cup of dried fruit or fruit juice.

Whether you like fruit and don’t like vegetables, or vice versa, you will benefit from a good variety of either.