I don’t know how things are going in your corner of the world, but it seems like an unusual number of folks in my corner are going through health struggles: cancer, anxiety and depression, heart issues, brain issues. Now, I know food isn’t a magic bullet. There are plenty of people who can afford to eat healthily and do eat healthily, and still they get one of the above ailments. But eating well certainly doesn’t hurt, while eating poorly actually does hurt.
It’s one of the shames of this country that unhealthy processed foods are so danged cheap, and real food can be a bank-breaker. If we all were content with a life-expectancy that hovered around 45, we could eat whatever we wanted (however cheaply) and all just keel over suddenly, like in the good old days.
Living longer means we have to put more expensive fuel in the machine and baby it a little more to keep it running. That is,
Eat more fruits and vegetables, whether they be fresh or frozen.
Limit the sugar and 90% of the foods found in the center of the grocery store.
Get off our butts and move around more.
I know, it’s hard. And it doesn’t even guarantee better health. But it does up our chances.
I hate exercise, but at least the rest of my family doesn’t. Some processed foods we cannot do without: breakfast cereals; breads; ice cream; the occasional delights of the snack aisle, like peanut-butter-filled pretzels, crackers, and tortilla chips. We love homemade desserts and eat them frequently. So that means, out of the three Must-Dos for Increased Chances at Good Health, the only one I feel much motivation about is the fruits and vegetables.
The American Cancer Society offers these tips for increasing your produce intake (and I’ve added my own comments after each one):
At each meal, fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables. (If you’ve got to slather them in dressing or Parmesan cheese, go for it. Better to have the fiber and goodness than to avoid the fats. But, hey, olive oil and cheese are good for you.)
Layer lettuce, tomatoes, beans, onions, and other vegetables on sandwiches and wraps. (Substitute hummus for mayo. Leave a pan of sliced onions on the stove for a half-hour to caramelize slowly, if that makes them more appetizing for your family.)
Add tomato sauce and extra vegetables to pastas and vegetable soups. (Or even puree some cooked veggies into your sauce. It’ll never be noticed.)
Choose a vegetarian dish when eating out. (Tried No Anchor in Seattle the other night, and —oh my goodness— the beetroot “dumplings” were to die for. I only wished they gave me 25% more.)
Challenge yourself to try new vegetables from the produce aisle, frozen foods section, or your local farmer’s market. (When’s the last time you made a salad with hearts of palm? When did you last reach for jicama or a sunchoke?)
Keep dried fruits in your desk drawer and glove compartment (but watch the sugar content!). (Because of the high sugar content and the sticky tendency to adhere to your teeth and cause tooth decay, I would mix these with nuts.)
Keep a bowl full of fresh veggies and fruits on your kitchen counter for quick snacking. (If it’s too much trouble to prep, there are always bananas, apples, easy-peel oranges, sugar snap peas, those little peppers that taste like bell peppers…)
If you’re short on time, look for pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables, such as baby carrots and broccoli florets, at the grocery store. (If you must. I confess to avoiding these because I think they’re all old and have lost a lot of nutritional value. Better to spend an hour on the weekend prepping your own veggies and bagging them up.)
We’ve entered the long Marketless season, which means we have fewer enticements to try a new fruit or vegetable or variety, but it can still be done. When in doubt, if it’s a vegetable, I bet it tastes good drizzled in olive oil, sprinkled with fresh-grated Parmesan and roasted until brown. I would eat a shoe, if it were prepared like that, and I’m betting your family would too.