Did you know that the average Aussie gets just half the recommended daily fruit and veg intake? To help you get the nutrients you need, dietitian Tracy Morris has found the 10 healthiest fruit and vegetables for your trolley.
No matter how you dice it, potato chips and the odd parsley garnish just don’t cut it when it comes to getting enough fruit and vegetables. Jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and other disease-fighting phytochemicals (plant chemicals), fruit and vegetables are Mother Nature’s way of looking after us. Generally, colour is a good way to judge the nutritional content – the brighter, more deeply coloured the produce, the more nutrients they contain (for example, choose rocket or baby spinach leaves over iceberg lettuce). To maximise your nutrition, your best bet is to choose fruits and vegies that deliver the most concentrated amounts of nutrients per serve.
Top five fruit
With 10 times the antioxidant power of goji berry juice (not to mention being 10 times cheaper), this is one fruit you should always put on your shopping list. Apples have serious disease-fighting power, playing a protective role against certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes and, according to a recent UK study, asthma. In fact, just two apples a week was enough to reduce the chances of developing the condition! The vitamins in apples may also keep those winter colds and 'flus at bay.
Tip: Wash and store apples as soon as you get home from the shops. It makes them that much easier to grab when you need an afternoon snack.
Of all fruits, strawberries contain the highest levels of folate – excellent news, since Aussies don’t get enough of this vital nutrient. (Folate is heat-sensitive, so folate-rich foods like legumes and broccoli can lose this nutrient during the cooking process). Strawberries win a second nutritional medal for the tiny amount of sugar they contain – in fact, they’re actually the lowestsugar fruit. They’re also one of the richest sources of vitamin C, full of bowel-protective fibre and, according to emerging research, are beneficial for both our heads and our hearts. And, as if you need any more reasons to snack on a punnet, they’re extremely low in kilojoules.
Tip: If you love a sweet treat, melt a Freddo Frog or some dark chocolate and drizzle over a bit bowl of strawberries. You can eat as many as you like for very kilojoules – a cup of strawberries has only about 130kJ.
Don’t let the size of these emerald gems fool you: just one kiwifruit a day can be an effective way to protect against a type of potentially cancer-causing DNA damage. Eat two kiwifruits (which is one full serving of fruit) and you’ll get even more benefits: three times your vitamin C quota for the day, around 5g fibre (20per cent of your daily intake) and beneficial amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin – antioxidants that decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD ), which is the leading cause of blindness in Australia.
Tip: The skin of the kiwifruit is actually edible – just be sure to wash it very well before eating.
Avocados have a bad reputation for being ‘fattening’, but a 2009 study published in the journal Nutrition showed that swapping 30g fat (from margarine or oil) for a large (200g) avocado per day did not compromise weight loss efforts. These creamy treasures aren’t just for weight maintenance and loss – they also inject nearly 20 essential vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients into your diet, including oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that helps lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in the blood.
Tip: Ditch the butter and spread on some avocado instead. Top toasted sourdough bread with avocado and a squeeze of lemon.
First, let’s start by dispelling the myth that bananas are fattening– they’re actually around 88 per cent water, contain about 400kJ per fruit and are practically fat free (0.1g fat per 100g). They also offer an abundant supply of healthy nutrients, including potassium; an essential mineral which slows the effect of sodium on blood pressure; vitamin B6, which is vital for a healthy nervous system; and fibre, to keep you regular. Bananas are also a great source of low-GI, ‘slow release’, carbs making them the perfect on-the-go snack.
Tip: Bananas are always the first to go from our fruit bowl. Buy a big bunch in varying degrees of ripeness and put them where you can see them – they're hard to resist when you're peckish!
Top five vegetables
Broccoli has to be one of the most nutritious foods in the supermarket. It’s bursting with vitamins C, E and K, iron, zinc, selenium and sulforaphane, an antioxidant that stimulates the body’s natural defences against cell damage for up to 3 days after being eaten, according to new research. Broccoli also has significant anti-cancer benefits, and has been shown to protect the health of our lungs and heart.
Tip: Don’t throw out broccoli stalks – sauté them with garlic and a dash of seasame oil for a stand-out side dish.
Did you know that mushrooms are one of the highest antioxidantcontaining foods in the world? They also provide more protein than most vegetables, are a rich source of various B vitamins and contain vitamins B12 and D, two nutrients not usually found in vegies. Technically, mushrooms aren’t plants (they’re a fungus) – so they’re neither fruit nor vegetable – but they still count towards the goal of ‘2 fruit + 5 veg a day’. Phew!
Tip: Next time you fire up the barbecue, throw a few large, flat mushrooms, lightly coated with olive oil and pesto, on the grill.
Popeye may have been on to something. Spinach is a super-charged vegie, loaded with lutein, a fat-soluble antioxidant shown to help protect our eyes. Apart from being a ‘friendly’ ingredient that compliments a range of other ingredients and cooking methods, spinach is also a great source of non-haem iron. Just remember that non-haem iron foods (such as spinach) should be eaten with a source of vitamin C (like tomatoes) to boost iron absorption.
Tip: Swap lettuce for baby spinach leaves in your salads. And stock up on frozen spinach – it’s great for stirring into soups, stews, pasta sauce and stir-fries.
When it comes to superfoods, the humble carrot is usually overlooked. But of all the vegies, carrots have the highest levels of the essential nutrient beta-carotene; an antioxidant associated with stable blood sugar, lower risk of heart disease, healthy vision, a stronger immune system and better skin health. And it doesn’t stop there – extensive research conducted in humans has also suggested that eating just one carrot a day could conceivably cut your risk of lung cancer in half. Not bad for a humble root veg! Carrots are also an excellent source of vitamin A (betacarotene converts to vitamin A in our bodies), with just one carrot providing double your daily vitamin A requirements. Best of all, anyone can eat just one carrot a day – because they’re wonderfully versatile. Try them as a snack with hommous, grated into your salad, hidden in the kids’ bolognaise or, if you feel like a treat, carrot cake.
Tip: Mash for dinner? Make it half potato and half carrot to add some colour to your meal.
Loaded with vitamin C and betacarotene, just 100g (about half a capsicum) provides a whopping three times the recommended daily intake for vitamin C. They’re also slightly sweeter tasting than most vegies, making them a firm favourite with fussy eaters. Technically a fruit, most of us use them as a vegie – but you can eat them anyway you please!
Tip: Fill a deseeded capsicum half with leftover spaghetti bolognaise, sprinkle with cheese and bake in the oven until tender.
Top tips for avoiding fruit and vegetable waste
Plan ahead: Figure out how many snacks and meals you’re likely to prepare for the week and go shopping armed with a list.
Avoid buying in bulk: Unlike pantry staples, only buy what you need for the week ahead.
Freeze it: Some fruit and vegetables on the verge of going off can be frozen for later use. Peel and freeze overripe bananas for a handy reserve for smoothies.
Buy frozen: The nutritional content of frozen fruit and vegetables is practically the same, and in some cases, even better than fresh. Frozen berries, spinach, and broccoli and cauliflower mix are all must-haves for the freezer.
Pre-prepare: Chop up large or ‘messy’ fruit/vegies, like watermelon and pumpkin, when you get back from the shops and store them in containers in the fridge, saving you time and energy when you’re ready for them.
Make the most of leftovers: Use leftover roasted vegetables in sandwiches or salads for lunch.
Get creative: Add wilting vegetables and leftover vegie ‘offcuts’ to casseroles or soups.
Compost: it Start a compost heap in your garden. If you don’t have a garden, put your plant-based waste into the green council bins (check with your local council).