By Erin Macgregor, RD
Psst…you’re not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
In fact, according to the Canadian Community Health Survey, less than 30% of Canadians meet the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables per day. Yikes!
Nearly all of us can do better, and since 2021 was the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, what better time to focus on eating more?
Here are 5 great reasons to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables.
They are Vitamin and Mineral Treasure Troves
Our most recent national food guide emphasizes not only the amount of fruit and vegetables we should eat for health (spoiler: it’s about half your plate), it also emphasizes variety. Each fruit and vegetable has its own superhero qualities, so mix it up to make the most out of your produce.
Check out the chart below to see how the vitamin and mineral goodness from fruit and vegetables can impact our health and wellness.
|Vitamin/Mineral||Sources||Effect on Health & Wellness|
|Vitamin C||Broccoli, cantaloupe, leafy greens, peppers, tomato||Maintains health immune system |
Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease
Aids in healing wounds
|Vitamin A||Dark green vegetables (spinach, collards, kale), orange vegetables and fruits (mango, carrots, pumpkin, peaches)||Prevents night blindness |
Lowers risk of stroke
May reduce risk of cataracts
|Folate||Peas, asparagus, lettuce, brussels sprouts||Prevents birth defects |
Important for nervous system development
May reduce risk of cancer and heart disease
|Calcium||Snap peas, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, green beans, orange, kiwi||Prevention of osteoporosis |
Muscle and skeletal health
May lower blood pressure
|Magnesium||Spinach, okra, potatoes, bananas, corn||Prevention of osteoporosis |
Nervous system development
Maintains immune health
|Potassium||Dried fruit, butternut squash, tomato, potato, banana||Prevention of high blood pressure and stroke|
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada. There is strong evidence a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Importantly, studies show the higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. So the more, the merrier! Bonus: In addition to improving health, if Canadians upped their intake of fruit and vegetables by even one serving, we could significantly reduce the economic burden of chronic disease.
Stay Sharp as a Tack
There’s been a lot of buzz about the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), a dietary pattern which emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables (specifically leafy greens and berries), whole grains, beans and fish. This plant-forward diet has been shown to slow cognitive decline in aging and reduce incidences of Alzheimer’s disease. This Kale Chickpea Salad with Trout is loaded with MIND-friendly ingredients. Looking for a dessert? Try one of these Berry-licious recipes to round out your brain boosting meal.
The YUM Factor
Fruit and vegetables add pizazz and mega flavour. Not only that, research shows we really do eat with our eyes. Visual stimuli has been shown to alter the perception of taste, smell and flavour. Adding bright, bold colours found in fruit and vegetables to sandwiches, casseroles, curries, soups, desserts and even beverages is a surefire way to keep those taste buds tingling.
Need some colourful meal time inspiration from dawn to dusk? These eye-popping recipes are sure to help you enjoy more produce!
Breakfast: Sheet pan meals are all the rage. Check out this Sheet Pan Omelette with pops of bright red and green bell pepper. An easy one-pan crowd pleaser!
Lunch: Pasta salad is a great portable lunch option for the whole family. This Mediterranean Tortellini Pasta Salad gets a makeover with splashes of red, green and yellow from a variety of veggies.
Dinner: Stuffed peppers are a classic. Mix up the traditional filling by adding more veg with this recipe for Mexican-Inspired Stuffed Peppers.
Dessert: This Frozen Strawberry Cheesecake is pretty in pink and uses the ever-appealing beauty of strawberries to boost colour and flavour.
Fibre…it’s your Friend
Fibre is a bit of a miracle worker.
Adequate fibre intake is associated with significantly lowering the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Upping your intake of fibre can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels and improve insulin sensitivity (this means our bodies don’t have to work as hard to metabolize carbohydrates).
And while most of us know that fibre can keep our bathroom habits regular, did you know that prebiotic fibres (found primarily in fruits and vegetables) can even enhance immune function?
See? Miracle worker.
Canadian women need about 25g of fibre per day, while men require 38g. Most Canadians are only getting half that much.
Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables, and being mindful about including them throughout the day (for each meal, if you can) is a great way to boost fibre intake.
Pair your produce with a whole grain to really enhance the fibre content come meal time. Check out these 6 Salads Made with Whole Grains for some inspiration on how to do it.
So, what’s stopping us from eating more?
The most recent Canada’s Food Price Report indicates food costs are set to increase 2-4% over a year. Add to that, according to the Agri-Food Analytics lab, cost is the number one reason Canadians don’t eat more fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, cost is followed by “too much work to prepare”. Choosing canned or frozen produce can be more cost and time effective when it comes to prep work, and bonus, they are also very nutritious and carry all of the same benefits as fresh.
Food safety concerns
Nearly ⅔ of Canadians are concerned about pesticide residues on produce in grocery stores. Sensational headlines and misinformation about pesticides have made their way into the kitchens of many. For Canadian families with lower incomes, there is even evidence that this misinformation deters them from buying fruits and vegetables.
Canada has very stringent regulatory requirements for pesticide residues. Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) are set by Health Canada’s Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency. They are the highest amount of allowable pesticide residue on a specific crop, and they are set at levels hundreds to thousands of times below where scientists have shown residues to be safe. The most recent Canadian Food Inspection Agency pesticide residue assessment showed that over 99% of produce in Canada (including imported) have pesticide residues that fall far below our very conservative limits.
Plus, washing produce well under cool running water is the most effective method to ensure food safety when it comes to fruit and vegetables. It also helps eliminate any minuscule amounts of residues that may be present.
With all of these compelling reasons piling up, how will you start to incorporate more fruits and vegetables at home?
Sign up for the monthly Great Food Grown Here newsletter and stay in touch!