Here the British Heart Foundation (BHF) shares tips on how to get the NHS-recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Read on to find out how you can include more fruit and veg into your meals, and benefit from a healthier diet – as well as a healthier heart!
One of the major benefits of doing so is the impact on heart health – according to the BHF, vegetables can have a major effect on lowering the risk of both stroke and cardiovascular disease, with many leafy greens helping to widen blood vessels and thin the blood.1
However, getting your five a day is not always easy, with busy lives sometimes placing an emphasis on convenience over quality when it comes to food. Another thing that can put some people off vegetables is the taste and texture – and sometimes just simply not knowing how best to prepare or cook them.
Spice up your rice
Adding vegetables to your rice is a simple, easy and tasty way to add another dimension to mealtimes. Choosing rice over starchy alternatives such as potatoes is also a healthier form of carbohydrate to keep you full up and fuelled. Try adding sweetcorn, peppers and tinned vegetables halfway through cooking for an easy and healthy kick.
Sugar-filled cereal is not the way to go if you want energy for the morning, but porridge oats can often seem bland. For the best of both worlds, consider adding a handful of fruit to your porridge to give it colour and a nutritional edge. Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries all work well, as do raisins, dried apricots and sliced banana.
With some food manufacturers recommending that you only consume their tomato-based sauces in moderation due to the high salt levels, swapping sauces in jars for tinned tomatoes adds an extra layer of freshness, without compromising the taste. Add coriander, basil, oregano or any other herb to the mix and you have an instantly more tasty sauce. This works perfectly for everything from lasagne and spaghetti bolognese to chill con carne and pasta bakes.
Another quick, easy and high protein option that you can easily add vegetables to is an omelette. Part-way through cooking, throw in some chopped peppers, tomatoes, onions or mushrooms to increase the taste, as well as the nutritional value. Experiment with less common additions such as sweetcorn, peas and spinach – if you’re making a Spanish omelette, swap the potato for sweet potato.
Stew on it
Although it is sometimes viewed as a winter dish, stew can be eaten at any time of the year and provides an excellent opportunity to add plenty of vegetables to your meal. Root vegetables are best suited to stews due to their hardiness, with carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and sweet potato all being able to withstand slow cooking and high cooking temperatures.
Like stew, soup can be consumed all year round, and again there are endless ingredients you can include to vary the taste. Finely chop up onions, carrots, peppers, parsnips, radish, swede, sweetcorn and any other vegetables you can think of, before lightly sautéing and adding to the mix, to maximise the nutritional value while offering a taste boost.
Room for dessert
If you have a sweet tooth, it doesn’t mean that healthy food is out of the question – fruit is the perfect accompaniment to many desserts. Swap ice cream with low-fat frozen yoghurt and add in whichever fruit you like to the mix. All berries make excellent additions, but banana, apricot, peaches and even stewed apples or pears offer a sweet treat whilst keeping your dessert healthy – just avoid adding sugar!
Things to avoid
Although some things may sound healthy, they are actually masquerading as fruit and vegetables and should be either consumed in moderation or avoided. Tomato ketchup may have tomato in its name but its salt and sugar content means any benefit is negated. Similarly, chips, mash and roast potatoes do not count towards your five a day (although sweet potatoes do). Tinned soup is also high in salt, while fruit yoghurt (sugar), olives (oil) and even vegetable crisps (fat) are all to be avoided, where possible.
The British Heart Foundation is the UK’s largest heart charity and funder of cardiovascular research. For more information on how to boost heart health and creative ways to get your five a day, visit the BHF website.