Five serves of fruit and vegetables a day has long been the recommended number for good health and disease prevention, but new research suggests that 8 is the magic number . When I discuss this with my patients they often look bewildered as to how they can make this happen. But as I explain to them, its easy once you give old food habits a rethink.
8 = 2 + 2 + 1 + 3
Two serves for brekky, two for lunch, one for afternoon snack and three for dinner - easy! Here's how...
Food habit Number 1
Lets start with breakfast and food habit number 1 - "I have to have cereal or toast for breakfast".
Wrong. A great first meal of the day should combine healthy fats, quality protein and nutrient dense fruit and/or veg.
Avocados, spinach, mushrooms, eggs, smoothies, dinner leftovers, fish, nuts, chia and flaxseeds, omelettes and salads are all great examples of breakfast foods.
Add spinach and avocado to breakfast smoothies, top leftover rice salad with eggs, serve half an avocado with a poached egg, bacon and homemade tomato salsa - be creative and the two serves is easy.
Every meal is an opportunity to maximise nutrient intake including breakfast. Why do we have to have cereal for breakfast? Why can't breakfast look like lunch or dinner? Rethink your habits on this one and optimise your health.
Food habit Number 2
Lunch and afternoon snacks often involve food habit number 2 - "I need a platform for my food"
In every initial consultation I record a "typical" daily food intake for my patient. More often than not lunch involves a sandwich/wrap/roll and afternoon snack includes dry biscuits/rice cakes/crackers.
The habit that we need a "platform" in the form of bread and biscuits to get food from our plate to our mouth is a common one. Take the "platform" away, place the ingredients in a bowl and use a knife and fork. Sandwich fillings often become a bowl of chicken/tuna/ham and salad, hommus on crackers becomes hommus and veggie sticks, and peanut butter on toast becomes celery and peanut butter. Replacing empty carbs with nutrient dense vegetables and fruit makes two serves for lunch and one for afternoon snack easy.
Crowd it out
Focus on the good foods and they will crowd out the bad. Eating 8 serves of fruit and veg a day not only means that your intake of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre will increase, it also means that your consumption of unhealthy foods will decrease. Consuming quality protein, fruit, vegetables and good fats crowds out empty carbs, high amounts of gluten and processed sugars. Replace inflammatory, nutrient deplete foods with anti-inflammatory, gut-loving, nutrient dense, health giving options.
Breaking habits is hard though...
For some patients, telling them that they can no longer have toast and jam for breakfast is like trying to deny them a fundamental human right . My deal with them is if they commit to the changes for one month and don't feel any better then its toast and jam all the way. But they do feel better and they never want to go back. Yes, habits can be difficult to break, but bad habits are often easier than you expect. My patients return a month down the track with no "brain fog", more energy, improved mood and sleep, and a spring in their step. And thats just the short term benefits. Over the longer term a diet that includes the magic number 8 every day means you can look forward to a lowered risk of premature death, stroke, heart disease and cancer, and that really is worth breaking habits for!