"Eat your fruits and vegetables!" You can still hear it now, ringing in your ears, this sage advice from the past. Mom or Dad reminding, cajoling, pleading, demanding a healthy diet -- at least before you got your dessert.
And now we're on our own, trying to stay healthy, telling our kids the same thing. And it's still hard. Why?
Late last year, the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a staggering national report card on how Americans are faring with their consumption of fruits and veggies.
The report shows that only 9.3 percent of Oklahoma adults and 7 percent of adolescents actually eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables -- two or more servings of fruit and at least three servings of vegetables.
On a national scale, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that only 14 percent of adults and fewer than 10 percent of teens in the United States eat the suggested servings on a daily basis.
How hard can it be to take in the recommended daily number of fruits and vegetables? Apparently, it's fairly hard for people's busy lifestyle of today.
What's in a Label?
According to Gena Crenshaw, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, families do not sit down and eat meals together as in years' past, and "if they do sit down and eat a meal together, the meal is a convenience meal, which has been prepared from the freezer or from a restaurant.
"We forget to have leafy green vegetables and offer the excuse that it takes too much time to prepare vegetables," she said.
Why are fruits and veggies so important for our health and bodies, though?
"Ongoing research suggests that daily consumption of fruits and vegetables will aid in everything from lowering blood pressure to possibly providing protection from certain types of cancer," Crenshaw said. She also said fruits and vegetables are often good sources of "indigestible fiber, which aid in the proper function of gastrointestinal processes."
Diets rich with fruits and vegetables are a "very important component of a healthy lifestyle," Crenshaw said.
Although no single fruit or vegetable contains everything you need to live, a variety of fruits and vegetables working together do.
By way of example, Crenshaw said that our body needs vitamins, such as Vitamin A for proper vision function.
Mary Ann O'Dell, of Akin's Natural Foods Market, 3321 E. 31st St. and 7807 E. 51st St., is a registered dietitian, specializing in the areas of wellness, herbs and special diets
"Research has shown over and over that a diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can protect against heart disease, cancer and promote overall health," O'Dell said.
In addition, "super foods" are all the buzz these days and include items such as acai berry, apple, avocado, banana, beetroot, blueberry, broccoli, tomato and more.
These super foods not only provide vitamins and minerals, but they are loaded with antioxidants, fiber and other nutritional compounds that have been linked to reduction in diseases.
Certain compounds found in these foods have been studied for their potential to reduce the risk for diseases, O'Dell said.
"Lycopene in tomatoes has been linked to reduce the risk for prostate cancer; sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower helps detoxify cancer-causing chemicals in the body; and anthocyanins in dark berries and grapes may protect against heart disease."
Lisa Becklund, founder of The Living Kitchen Farm and Garden in Bristow, said, "A poor diet lowers energy, can lead to mood swings and lower your drive to get help or make changes."
O'Dell finds that it takes a conscious effort to eat healthy. Purchasing prepared meals at the grocery store, a convenience store or a fast-food establishment is much easier and often less expensive than buying fresh fruits and vegetables, which must be washed, cut and then prepared.
Therefore, because of these "obstacles," O'Dell said, "Highly processed foods are often very cheap, contributing to their increased consumption.
"I think there may be a misconception that fruits and veggies are not convenient, but the reality is that they are more convenient than even a drive through (and more economical!)," O'Dell said.
Something that might change the perception for those who think it's less convenient is Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, who's currently advocating to get more healthy corner markets established in Tulsa as well as the state.
His bill, House Bill 3015, would promote the growth of healthy corner markets -- those who sell fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods -- in underserved areas of the state.
Recently, the bill passed the house and is looking for pick-up by a Senate committee.
"Straight up and down, it's an effort to put more capital into food-related enterprises and address food deserts," Scott said.
No Forbidden Fruit
Libby Auld and her husband Jeramy, owners of Eloté Café & Catering, 514 S. Boston, were determined to open a Mexican restaurant that would provide a healthy experience for patrons.
"Beans, rice and corn are healthy and nutritious," she said, so their mission was to prepare it in a way that would be healthy to their customers.
"I want people to feel good about eating a burrito," Auld said.
"All of our burritos have spinach and sweet potatoes in them, and we don't use iceberg lettuce -- we use either Romaine or spinach on everything," Auld said. Eloté's menu offers many vegetarian items, and there is no deep frying or butter added, but plenty of spinach, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, black beans and corn.
Auld said she does the best she can at Eloté serving fresh fruits and vegetables in the dishes and purchasing from local vendors.
"Every bit counts," she said. "We can't eat 100 percent organic lifestyle, but we do the best we can to support the local vendors, keeping the money in our own state."
She purchases her fruits and vegetables from local farmers' markets such as the one on Cherry Street and Brookside; she goes to Conrad Farms in Bixby for not only fruits and veggies but also locally made cheeses, eggs and legumes, and Natural Farms for beef and chicken.
At Akin's, O'Dell said her stores are committed to carrying only organic produce, "so we stick to that commitment even when purchasing from Oklahoma vendors. This means we often have Oklahoma produce seasonally."
To make it easy to eat the recommended amount of veggies each day, O'Dell suggests trying a "chopped salad," which is often on restaurant menus.
To get the recommended fruit, O'Dell suggests a "superfruit juice, like mangosteen, acai or goji, which provides a high concentration of fruit antioxidants in as little as an ounce."
Simple ideas, O'Dell said, such as making a fruit smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit and yogurt or adding a greenfoods powder (offer another concentrated source of fruit and vegetable antioxidants) to a glass of 100 percent fruit juice are easy ways to get in the daily fruits and veggies.
On Brookside, Center 1 Market has an excellent assortment of fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables. Even during the off season when farmers' markets are not available, James P. Cooper offers as many fruits and vegetables as he can but naturally his shelves thin out during winter.
He purchases locally and regionally, supporting the local economy as best he can, but through the winter months, he relies mainly on the regional vendors, such as those in Texas, to supply fresh fruits and vegetables. Chef Ian at Center 1 Market prepares a daily assortment of freshly made pre-made foods to take away, of course made with the fresh fruits and vegetables from the Market.
During the spring, summer and early fall, fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available in the Tulsa area at the many farmers' markets.
One of the most well-known in Tulsa is the Cherry Street Farmers Market. Opening in early April and running through October, this farmers market is getting even bigger, as this year it will be relocating to Cherry Street between Quaker and Rockford avenues. This market, which began with about 10 vendors 12 years ago, now has almost 70, many of whom will offer a wide selection of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
In Tulsa County alone, 10 farmers' markets open annually. Some of those include the Downtown Tulsa Farmers' Market, on the Williams Green, opening mid-May through October; Brookside Farmers' Market, ACE Hardware parking lot (41st and Peoria), opens May-October; North Tulsa Farmers' Market, 2620 E. 56th Street North, opens June-October; and Pearl Farmers' Market, Centennial Park, 624 S. Peoria, opens April-September. A full range of other farmers' markets may be found at kerrcenter.com.
Besides the local farmers markets, another way to increase fruit and vegetable intake is to grow your own garden or participate in a community garden.
"There are a number of community gardens and neighborhood associations where even the kids get involved," Auld said. Starting the little ones with a diet rich with fruits and veggies is key to beginning and later maintaining a healthful lifestyle.
Global Gardens is one such ground root initiatives to help children learn and have fun growing produce in their own garden as part of their school curriculum through hands-on science education.
Heather Oakley, the Founder and Executive Director of Global Gardens, also believes poverty is a "huge indicator for not eating right," so her mission in founding Global Gardens is to provide lower-income students a "school-based country garden where the focus is on empowerment and ending the cycle of poverty in the students' eyes."
And this occurs, she said, more as a by-product when she gets the students working on their gardens.
"Many of the people I work with don't have transportation to the store, so they basically do not have access to grocery stores," Oakley said. She said many of her students and their families eat at "the local Shell station, Sonic, McDonald's -- places they can walk to.
"They don't tend to get full on veggies. They find things in boxes and pop it into the microwave or toaster."
And, produce does not keep as long as processed foods. Education is the key.
"Our students will eat fruits and vegetables when they can get them, such as cucumbers, corn, bell peppers, cantaloupe and watermelon," Oakley said.
Oakley's own education -- an undergraduate degree in Botany and a Master's of Science degree in International Development and Peace Education at Columbia University in New York City -- planted the seeds for her future in founding Global Gardens. In addition, she was a science teacher in Harlem in grades 1-8, which eventually inspired her to work with students in Tulsa.
She and her staff of six have established gardens on the grounds of two elementary schools, Eugene Field and Rosa Parks.
"We teach students during the school day as part of their science class, and every class has a 'class garden,'" she said. She said the impact is spectacular.
"A lot more students are feeling comfortable with working in the garden," Oakley said. "They are learning how a garden happens, and students are open to eating fruits and vegetables that we grow." During the winter months, they continue to study about gardening, with various indoor projects such as making a magazine about gardening, building birdhouses and art projects all related to gardens and science experiments.
And to help educate the parents, Oakley said they try to offer cooking classes at least once a week for parents and students on how to cook fresh produce.
"We have made hummus, fresh salsa, pumpkin bread, squash bread, and it's all delicious, and we just try to keep it simple," she said.
Solving the Problem
For those changing to a diet of more veggies and fruits and cringe at having to take time to prepare them, Crenshaw suggests to simply fix pre-cut vegetables, buy steamer vegetables (the frozen type that can be steamed in a microwave), or buy smaller amounts of fruit twice a week, which will help for less food waste due to spoilage.
In addition, consuming fruits and vegetables in the juice form is a quick and easy route to a more healthy diet but be sure it is 100 percent juice by looking at the label on the juice bottle for the serving size, Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw also said that consuming liquids will not always give people a "feeling of satiety that solids will, leading to an increase in caloric intake."
She said the recommended way to consume fruits and veggies is when they are fresh and in-season, but "from a nutrient standpoint, frozen, canned and dried are great ways to consume these good-for-you foods," Crenshaw said.
At the same time, Crenshaw said to be wary of some canned fruits and vegetables because they might have increased sodium or are canned in syrup.
"Cost is often a huge factor in deciding what to buy (canned, frozen, fresh, dried), but regardless of the source, it is important to consume your recommended amounts," Crenshaw said.
Becklund suggests that for those in an "economic disadvantage," use Women Infant Children (WIC) and food stamp programs at the farmer's market.
"Vendors are anxious to serve you, and we love to talk about our products," she said.
She adds that many vendors have recipes and are more than willing to share their ideas and make suggestions to help with the purchasing and veggie and fruit preparation.
"Don't automatically assume it will be more expensive," she said. "Research has shown most things you buy at the market pound-by-pound are equal or less expensive than conventional grocery stories.
"Also keep in mind when you eat nutrient-dense foods you eat less. Your body gets what it needs and leaves you alone to do other things."
Becklund's mission "has always been to try to help people overcome the obstacles that prevent them from eating a healthy diet. I want to first show people the benefits, get them invested in the idea," which she said is the biggest challenge. She said "experience" has much to do with why people don't consume their fruits and vegetables as they should.
"Each person is different, but generally it has to do with experience, lack of experience or a bad experience, and much of it is a direct response to the larger economic problem," Becklund said.
Becklund offers farmers market visitors an opportunity to come to her farm and attend a "farm table dinner on the Oakley homestead." Licensed dietitian Elizabeth Lohrman assists with the dinners to make them experience a healthy one.
"The fact is, after years and years of eating poorly, you get used to feeling bad, so you don't start noticing you have a problem until you get to the doctor's office," Becklund said. "When you're used to feeling bad, you adapt."
Still, there are some ways to begin the process toward rejuvenated health. O'Dell suggests committing to trying something new. Find 'snacky' veggies such as snow peas that work well.
Crenshaw said using the guidelines established by the USDA, which are illustrated through MyPyramid, could help determine servings of fruits and vegetables.
Mypyramid.gov is a Web site that breaks down the requirements into simple categories that can easily be analyzed on a person-by-person basis.
She presents this example: "A 4-8 year old child's recommended daily intake of fruit is 1-1.5 cups per day whereas the RDI for a male between the ages of 19 and 51 years old is 2 cups per day." She further clarifies that these guidelines are appropriate for those who get less than 30 minutes of exercise per day; however, it notes that individuals who are more active can consume a greater amount while staying within their calorie needs.
Becklund said the best way to begin a regimen of eating the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables is to determine why it's important to you.
"What do you really want the next 20 years of your life to look like?" is one way to begin, she said. "What do you want your energy feel to be like?"
She suggests focusing on the basics, such as mood and energy and "just feeling good."
"From a perspective of someone who could afford to eat more fruits or veggies, it's about changing habits which can be extremely challenging," Becklund said. "On both accounts, the challenge is multi-layered from lack of knowledge of how to prepare things to having had a bad experience with, say mom's canned spinach she made you eat, so now you'll never eat spinach again."
Becklund said to challenge yourself by choosing vegetables and fruits that you would never imagine eating, and ask the vendor or the produce manager how to cook it.
Moreover, Crenshaw said that we must be wise in our choices.
"It is important to understand no one nutrient whether it be a vitamin or mineral, is responsible for huge health benefits," she said. "It is how the nutrients work together within one's body that provides the health benefits." So, she continues, it is crucial to remember that "variety is the key."
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