Fruits get points whilst Veggies score goals
Most of us would have heard about the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. We are told in the media to make sure we eat our 5 a day. When we were young, we were constantly bombarded by our parents to 'eat up our greens!'. In many cases, myself being a good example, consumption of fruit and vegetables can be brutal as a young lad but can improve considerably as we get older. But in the population in general are we even reaching this modest target?
According to Safe Food 2013 review of consumer's eating habits, we don't seem to be doing very well in this regard-
'The key finding was that 75% of Irish consumers are now able to identify that they should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but only a third (36%) of consumers say they are doing so. The average intake of fruit and vegetables is currently less than half that recommended, at 2.4 portions per day. Issues to do with cost, shelf life, preparation time and habit were seen by consumers as barriers to buying and consuming more fruit and vegetables.'
From my experience people are pretty comfortable eating fruits but generally consume a small range of fruits such as apples, oranges and bananas. On the other hand, vegetables are rarely eaten with breakfast and tend to be mostly eaten in the main 'dinner' of the day in the evening.
So why should we eat more fruit and vegetables?
Improved general health:
Fruit and vegetables are packed with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phyto-chemicals. Our bodies need a mixture of nutrients that can improve health and promote recovery. Vitamins play a role in growth, digestion, energy transfer, nervous system function and more. Minerals often serve as building blocks for body structures: forming the foundation of bones and teeth, constructing cells and enzymes and can act as electolytes enabling muscle function. Phytochemicals such as lycopene in tomatoes have shown benefits for heart and bone health. Beta carotene in kale, broccoli and sweet potato have many benefits for the immune system and for vision. Try to consume a variety of bright coloured fruit and vegetables to obtain a wide spectrum of nutrients.
Contain more fibre:
Many fruits and vegetables are high in fibre. There are two types. Insoluble fibre found in vegetables such as sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables helps the passage of food through the gut and prevents constipation and bowel problems. Soluble fibre found in cucumber, celery and apples reduce LDL cholestrol levels by slowing glucose absorbtion. All high fibre foods are beneficial for any GAA players who wants to feel and function better. It is also beneficial for helping maintain a healthy weight or even promote weight loss. They fill you up more and reduce satiety (the feelings of hunger).
GAA players exercise at high intensities during pitch and gym sessions and especially during matches. Compared to the average person, they place more demand on the systems in the body to provide energy, replenish fuel stores and repair tissue. Therefore they will have a greater requirement for a variety of nutrients to facilitate health, training improvements and to promote health. Adequate protein are carbohydrate intakes are still king post exercise when it comes to recovery but eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables will provide many antioxidants that can aid the recovery process.
Less body fat and better body composition
Eating a diet higher in fruit and low starch vegetables will generally make you feel fuller because of the higher fibre content and will ensure stable blood sugar levels thus reducing the chances of reaching for a snack. Fruit and vegetables are generally lower in calories than other foods. If people eat more fruit and vegetables with their meals, they are usually eating them in place of higher calorie foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes. Replacing starchy carbohydrates with fruit and vegetables is a good strategy on non training days as the energy and carbohydrate requirements are lower. Eating more vegetables than fruit can also have a benefit in this matter.
How can we get more fruit and vegetables into our diet?
Shopping: do a big shop and buy a variety of fruits and vegetables, if you don't have them in the house, you won't use them in your meals!
Frozen fruits and veg: this topic could come under 'shopping' but it is so important, I felt it needed it's own heading. Frozen products in the freezer are really handy and require minimal effort. They have comparative nutritional quality to fresh fruit and vegetables and don't require any preparation. Frozen mixed berries can be added to smoothies, porridge, yogurt etc. Frozen vegetables can be steamed, thrown into curries, stir fries or pasta dishes etc.
Preparation: if you want to eat more vegetables you will need to prepare your food in advance. It takes 10 minutes to put together a simple salad, this can be made the previous night and left in he fridge. ready to be taken in the morning before work/college.
Smoothie: many fruits and vegetables can be added to a smoothie. Adding carrot, kale, spinach and avocados to a smoothie is an easy way to bump up consumption and get a variety of nutrients.
Choose wisely when eating out: many restaurants/delis/shops in Ireland are becoming more aware of catering for the nutritionally conscious consumer. Salads and vegetables/soups are easier than ever to locate in various establishments. Look out for the healthier options in your area and will be more to make the better choice.
Those starting to eat a mixture of fruit and vegetables should start feeling healthier and performing better. Many of us have no problem eating fruit but struggle to get our quota of vegetables.
For that reason, I have given the ranking of fruit as a point and a vegetable as a goal. Goals are harder to get but have a higher value. Take the points if they are there but don't miss opportunities for goals!
Aim to eat 5-8 portions of fruit and/or vegetables daily; 1-2 portions of different fruit with your breakfast and 3 portions of assorted vegetables with your lunch and dinner every day.