At a recent pre-retirement seminar, I asked how many of the participants were regularly eating five servings a day of fruits and/or vegetables.
Very few hands went up.
This did not surprise me, and I'm sure it doesn't surprise you, either.
National food consumption surveys consistently report we fall short when it comes to fruits and veggies.
The need to increase plant foods has gotten plenty of press lately, and for good reason. They provide both soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as vitamin C and beta carotene in substantial doses. They also offer a wide variety of B vitamins, vitamin E and the entire range of known-to-be-needed minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron.
Increasing fruits and vegetables in your diet can help reduce your risk for cancer and heart disease by providing more fiber and less fat. They can help you control yor weight, too.
Here are some easy ways to increase the fruits and vegetables in your diet, so you, too, can reap all their benefits:
*Add grated carrot as well as chopped celery to your standard tuna salad. (Use reduced fat mayonnaise, too.)
*Better yet, make tuna-potato salad using red skinned potatoes. (Leave the skins on, of course.) Potatoes count as vegetables as long as they're not fried or smothered in butter and sour cream.
*Extend egg salad by mixing in plenty of radishes and chopped cucumber. (Remember, you can have three or four egg yolks per week, even on a cholesterol-lowering diet.) Eggs are very inexpensive, so this is a great way to extend your budget, too.
*Fiber-up chicken salad by adding chopped apples (scrubed well, then leave the skins on) and seedless grapes to the mixture.
*Add vegetable soup, crab soup or Manhattan clam chowder to any sandwich meal.
*Order double lettuce and tomato on your sandwiches.
*Even better, double the tomato, substitute Romaine for iceberg lettuce, and pile on the sprouts.
*Try eating in a restaurant that serves sliced raw carrot chips with your sandwich.
*Carry an apple, orange or tangerine in your briefcase for emergency snack.
*For breakfast, add a handful of dried fruit to any cereal, hot or cold. Use brown or golden raisins, dried cherries, bite-sized pitted prunes or chopped dates, figs or apricots.
*Have a "veggie" dinner. Microwave a sweet potato. Top with microwaved frozen mixed vegetables and a little reduced fat cheese.
Just do a little at a time. Small improvements over a long period of time and add up to big changes in food style.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and director of Eating Together in Baltimore