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Habit Challenge #3: Vegetables

Eat the Rainbow

by Catherine King MSc. CSCS

What we eat affects our health and how we feel, but, food also plays an important role in our self-identity. Food is fuel, but it is also cultural and social. It is how many of us express care and love. This is why, for some, changing our eating habits can seem challenging. 

I was fortunate to grow up on a farm. We grew and raised our own food. As a child, my food was always fresh, organic and plentiful. I understood where food came from, the importance of nutrient-rich, clean soil and the value of work. Many people do not have the advantage of a garden and may only understand the food they eat as neatly wrapped in plastic, boxed into boxes and sealed into cans. They may not know where their food originated or how it was produced. The origin of the food on their plate is known only in the abstract.

Further, diets reliant heavily on processed foods are far from ideal. Even if your diet consists of food you are preparing yourself or high-end restaurant meals, there is probably room for improvement. After all, health and wellness is an ongoing process. 

When you think about the term diet, you probably think about eating less, restricting what you eat, and avoiding certain foods. However, this week, I am actually going to encourage you to eat more!

This brings us to a key component of good nutrition: vegetables and fruit. There is always a lot of noise about what diet is superior. You don’t need to start a keto or south beach diet and it is probably best to ignore the marketing altogether. Here is a secret about nutrition and fitness: the basics work. Boring works. For nutrition basics, let vegetables take centre stage and, quite simply, eat more of them. 

The current Canadian Food Guide recommendations are that half of your food intake be from vegetables and fruits. Previous recommendations were for 7 to 10 servings a day, and in the U.K. they promote a 5-A-Day health promotion campaign. Regardless of what resources you refer to, the messaging is clear; to be healthy, we need to consume a variety of veggies and fruits each day. Vegetables should be considered the base of what we eat. It is important to consume a range of veggies and fruit, not just for the macronutrients, but for the abundance of micronutrients, phytonutrients, and fibre. For reference, one serving is a ½ cup of veggies, 1 cup of leafy greens, a medium-sized fruit, or, using the hand guide, one serving of vegetables is equivalent to the size of your fist.

When we talk about eating the rainbow, we are not referring to Skittles. Think about all the fruits and vegetables that are green, orange, red, purple, and white. Eating the rainbow, as well as eating both cooked and raw vegetables and fruit, will provide you with a broader range of nutrients. Ideally, you should consume vegetables and fruit at a 3 to 1 ratio. However, don’t become obsessed with the sugar content in a banana if your daily Starbucks contains over 40 g of refined sugar. Pebbles versus boulders. 

We know we need to eat more vegetables and fruit, so let’s get to the “how”. If you want to eat more veggies, make them visible and convenient. If you want to eat fewer chips and cookies, make them invisible and inconvenient. Keep a bowl of fruit on your counter. Have washed and chopped veggies in clear containers, ready-to-eat in the fridge, at eye level. Those chips and cookies? If they are in the house, store them in an opaque container in the hardest-to-reach cupboard. And never eat straight out of the package! One serving size of chips is usually around 15 chips, not the whole bag. 

Once again pick one option you are confident you can commit to your routine, or, think of another that is a better fit for you:

Choose one or possibly two options to add more servings of vegetables and fruits into your diet. Choose fresh or frozen and prepare them yourself more often. Eat heavily processed foods less often. Again, change your environment by making the foods you want to eat more visible and convenient. 

Experiment: what is working well for you? What is not? What other options are there?

Good nutrition isn’t complex and it doesn’t need to be difficult. It does take planning, preparation, knowledge, and skills to take whole, or minimally processed foods, and turn them into balanced, healthy meals and snacks. Start small, learn a new skill, try a new recipe, plan out your menus, or learn more about nutrients. You are the expert in your life, so how will you make it a habit to add more vegetables and fruit to your diet?

If you have any questions regarding nutrition coaching and behaviour change, contact Catherine at catherine@westcoastconditioning.ca 

Resources:

Andrews, R., DePutter, C., Kollias, H., Scott-Dixon, K., & St. Pierre, B. (2016). Water and fluid balance. In 1152021561 866039009 J. Berardi (Author), The essentials of sport and exercise nutrition: Certification manual (Third ed., pp. 263-286). Toronto, ON: Precision Nutrition.

Canada, H. (2021, January 19). Government of Canada. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. *New York, New York: Penguin Random House.
Eat well. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/

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