February is American Heart Month! Because heart disease continues to be the number one killer among Americans, it’s essential that we are doing all we can to either treat heart disease or prevent ourselves from ever being diagnosed with it. Diet is one of the best ways to prevent and treat this disease, so it’s important that we include fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and substitute saturated fats for unsaturated heart-healthy fats. Finally, we need to be sure to keep an eye on that sodium and not let it sneak into our foods!
The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half our plate with fruits and veggies in order to make it to the recommended 4-5 servings of each per day. And don’t forget, all forms of fruits and vegetables count, including fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and 100% juice.
4 Facts About Canned Produce
February is also National Canned Foods Month, which gives me an opportunity to tell you all about how nutritious canned produce is! I understand why some get a bad rap; most of the time it’s the sodium. But did you know that less than 1% of sodium in our diet comes from canned vegetables? Breads, cold cuts, and prepared meats provide much more sodium than canned vegetables in most diets. In adddition, there are also no-salt-added canned produce items available, and draining and rinsing canned foods can lower sodium by 41%.
You can buy canned fruit that is in 100% juice or has no sugar added, or you can rinse to remove any excess sugar. But canned fruit contributes to less than 2% of the added sugar in most American diets. Top sources of added sugar in the diet come from soda, energy drinks and sport drinks, grain-based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, candy, ready to eat cereals, sugars and honey, tea and yeast breads.
Canned and frozen items are picked at the peak of ripeness and their nutrients are preserved by either being frozen or canned (so, at the end of the day, ALL forms of fruits & veggies matter!). This maximizes nutrition, minimizes waste, saves money, and ensures there is always a variety of fruits and vegetables available.
Who likes food that is easy and convenient? I sure do! And I’m guessing the majority of you do as well! Guess what, you’re in luck! Canned and frozen produce is already pre-cut; just warm it up (or in the case of fruit, just eat it)! In addition, you’ll have less waste because you can always put it back in the freezer after you take out the portion you want.
Ways to Add More Fruits and Vegetables
Here are my favorite ways to add more servings of fruits and vegetables without creating a hassle and spending too much time in the kitchen – we all have busy lives!
Lunch – For lunch, I always have a side salad with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and mushrooms (it doesn’t need to be a huge salad or the main dish) and a fruit cup in 100% juice. If I’m having soup, I always add a can of veggies to it. Are you having a grilled cheese with that soup? Why not add a sliced tomato and spinach leaf in it?
Dinner – For dinner, whether I am making stir fry, a hot dish, or fajitas, veggies are always the main component. When my mom made tater tot hot dish (gotta love MN cooking) she would add two pounds of beef and one bag of mixed veggies. When I make it, I add 1 pound of lean beef and two bags of veggies, if not more. Plus I always serve a veggie on the side. With fajitas, who says meat has to be the main part? The peppers and onions sautéed in olive oil are what brings in the real flavor (don’t forget the guacamole made with 100% avocados!). For stir fry, try to have a ratio of at lease 2:1 for veggies to meat. And remember, a fruit cup always makes a good dessert!
Soups are a very easy way to get a lot of vegetables into your diet. Add, add, add away! Maybe adding vegetables sounds like a lot of work, but it surely doesn’t have to be! You can use canned or frozen vegetables instead of fresh, that way they have already been washed and cut, and all you have to do is open the can or bag and just keep adding!
Three Bean Vegetarian Chili
- 2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) olive oil
- 1 medium yellow skinned onion, chopped
- 1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
- 1 cup low sodium vegetable stock/broth
- 1 (32-ounce) can crushed no-salt-added tomatoes
- 1 (14-ounce) can reduced-sodium black beans
- 1 (14-ounce) can reduced-sodium dark red kidney beans
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne hot pepper sauce, several drops
- 1 cup fat-free spicy vegetarian refried beans
Toppings (Choose one or several of these):
- Spicy Monterey jack cheese
- Chopped scallions, whites and greens
- Diced fresh seeded plum tomato
- Diced fresh avocado
- Blue and red corn tortilla chips or black bean tortilla chips, for dipping
- Plain fat-free Greek yogurt
Over moderate heat, add oil to a deep pot and combine onion, peppers, and garlic. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes to soften vegetables. Deglaze pan with broth, add tomatoes, black beans, red kidney beans, stirring to combine.
Season chili with cumin, chili powder, and hot sauce. Thicken chili by stirring in refried beans. Simmer over low heat about 5 to 10 minutes longer, then serve up bowls of chili and add your favorite toppings from above.