"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
- Benjamin Franklin
I always treasure my normally good health the most immediately after a bout with illness, and it was right after a nasty cold that I first decided to find out how well my diet measured up to the standard recommendation to get about eight daily servings of fruits and vegetables (for someone of my size).
According to many sources, consuming more fruits and vegetables helps boost the immune system. I've become much more concerned about ensuring optimum immunity as we've seen the repercussions of the financial and economic depressions echo throughout the health and insurance systems. Not only do I want health for health's sake, but also because I'm coming to believe that the health system may not have the resources to treat the illnesses that are running rampant in our society - heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other casualties of our toxic, sedentary and nutrient-poor lifestyles. The system is already staggering under the load of our poor health. And even if the system can treat these diseases, we may not be able to afford the treatment.
So how do we achieve optimum health and immunity? There are several avenues, but one key is consuming fruits and vegetables, which corresponds with lower risk of stroke and heart disease, protection against some kinds of cancer, improved digestion, better overall health, even protection of our vision. Many nutritionists believe that these same benefits cannot be achieved from consuming multi-vitamins and other supplements - our bodies don't absorb pills the same way, and the combination of vitamins, minerals, fiber, anti-oxidants, and phytochemicals inherent in the whole food is important.
With all the evidence, the benefits are clear and compelling. Yet how many times have you tried to actually eat the recommended number of fruits and vegetables - five to thirteen per day, depending on your weight?
As for myself, never. I was curious as to how many servings I was actually eating, and a few months ago I decided to find out. For one month last year, I wrote down every serving of fruit, vegetable, or beans I ate. I was surprised by the results. I discovered that at first, I was sometimes eating less than the minimum recommended amount of five fruits and vegetables. Once I started paying attention, I began finding more ways to get them into my snacks and meals, and I began to enjoy the challenge of experimenting with new foods.
Yet five servings is still far from the optimum. In fact, it's only the minimum! Why not go for better health, more energy, increased immunity?
Good question. My answer: I just started the challenge once again in honor of March, National Nutrition Month. This time, I'm going for eight servings of fruits, vegetables, and beans per day. How did I come up with eight? Well, the Harvard School of Public Health recommends nine servings for someone consuming 2,000 calories. Since I only need to consume about 1,800 calories per day, eight seemed like a reasonable number.
I'll be blogging about the adventure to improve my health, immunity, and nutrition over the next 30 days, as I try a variety of fruits and vegetables, grow some of the vegetables in my garden, and experiment with some unusual, but inexpensive and easy to make, foods. At the end, I'll summarize the habits and strategies that I want to keep.
Anyone want to join me in the challenge? Here's how:
1. Comment on this post and I'll send you a blank version of the calendar I'm using to track my results, which I'm posting on my fridge. If you don't want to publish your e-mail, you can send me a request for a tracking calendar at firstname.lastname@example.org - but still comment in to join the challenge!
2. Track the fruit, vegetable and bean servings you eat every day (guidelines are listed below).
3. Find ways to increase the number of servings of these immunity-boosting foods.
I plan to have fun with this challenge, and I hope you will too! The challenge will run from today until April 5th. At that time, I'll do a drawing for Simply in Season, a seasonal cookbook, for challenge participants.
Here are some guidelines for what counts as a serving size for this challenge:
- 1/2 cup of fruits or vegetables
- 1/2 cup of cooked beans (kidney, black, pinto, garbanzo, lentils, hummus)
- Approximately one medium apple, banana, or orange
- 1/4 cup of dried fruit
- 1 cup of uncooked greens (lettuce, spinach, kale)
- 1/2 cup of not-from-concentrate juice (carrot or orange)
Note that potatoes do not count as a vegetable (nutritionists count them as a starch). Commercial fruit juices made from concentrate, and processed items like fruit roll-ups, also do not count as a fruit.