By Elizabeth Parker, PhD, RD
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 recommends consuming a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of foods, which includes a variety of vegetables and fruits. But did you know that most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables? On any given day, Americans over the age of 2 years consume less than 1 serving of fruit and less than 1-½ servings of vegetables, far below the recommended intakes.
Fruits and vegetables contain a variety of nutrients and fiber that helps your body stay healthy. In addition to providing key nutrients, eating fruits and vegetables while staying within your body’s recommended caloric needs, can help you control your weight.
Fruits and vegetables are low energy density foods, meaning they contribute few calories while providing greater bulk to the diet. This means you can eat a greater volume of foods for relatively fewer calories. Higher energy-dense foods (such as baked goods like cakes and cookies, fried foods, etc.) contain greater amounts of fat and calories for a similar portion.
Think of it this way, for the calories in a fast food blueberry muffin (about 450 kcals), you could eat about 5 medium apples. Research has shown that people who consume a low-energy-dense diet reported greater intakes of total food, meaning they were consuming more food and still losing weight.
In a real-world setting, lower energy-dense diets could increase diet quality without reducing the weight of foods consumed, helping you to feel fuller and more satisfied to reduce feelings of hunger, while also reducing energy intake.
I bet you’re thinking that you will get tired of eating salads or steamed plain vegetables on a regular basis. Or maybe you have a picky eater who no matter how hard you try, will NOT eat their vegetables. One way to lower the energy density of foods is to “hide” fruits and vegetables in your favorite foods.
Try some of the following tips and recipes to hide the veggies for even the pickiest eater!
It’s fun to get creative in the kitchen. I encourage you to take your favorite fruit and vegetable and find new ways to hide it in traditional recipes!
About the Author: Elizabeth (Liz) Parker, PhD, RD
Liz Parker, Assistant Professor of Family & Community Medicine in the Center for Integrative Medicine, part of University of Maryland School of Medicine, completed her PhD in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (HNFE) and Bachelors of Science in HNFE with a double option in Dietetics and Exercise Health Promotion from Virginia Tech. She is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer. Her research interests include obesity, energy balance and lifestyle interventions to improve health and chronic disease related outcomes.
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