Food hacks to help you eat more fruits and vegetables

Study after study shows that the human body is healthier when you feed it more plant foods. And yet, shifting to a diet that includes not only more plants but a greater variety of them can be challenging.

Here are a few simple tips to help you increase your daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices and other plant foods.

Put fruit within easy reach: A Danish study found that when fruit was placed within easy reach in an office setting, workers increased their overall fruit intake. I’ve added fruit bowls to my dining table and my office desk, so I reach for that instead of walking to the snack room.

Add crunch: Adding nuts and seeds to the foods you eat is a simple way to increase the diversity of plants in your diet, which is good for your microbiome. I recently purchased a shaker of roasted sunflower seeds to sprinkle on salads, and I’m finding that when I add crunch, I’m eating much larger servings of salad and less of everything else on my plate.

Spice it up: Seasoning your foods with a variety of spices is a simple way to increase the diversity of the plant foods you eat, says Eating Lab columnist Anahad O’Connor. Add a dash of cinnamon to breakfast yogurt or coffee. Use herbes de Provence, a seasoning that typically contains six herbs, to grilled chicken or fish.

Fatten your vegetables: I’ve long complained that healthy eating is often associated with plain and boring vegetables. Many of the vitamins and phytonutrients in vegetables are fat-soluble, which means you need to eat them with a small amount of fat for the body to fully absorb them. It’s okay to add avocado, olive oil or a little dressing to make your vegetables more tasty.

Improve the quality of your breakfast: For many people, breakfast can be the sweetest meal of the day. Pastries and many breakfast cereals are laden with added sugar and other chemicals added during food processing. Switch to a morning with a bowl of plain yogurt topped with sliced bananas and strawberries, a dash of cinnamon powder and a handful of mixed nuts, and you’ve created a delicious treat for you and your microbiome.

Train yourself to crave comfort fruit: When you’re feeling stressed, try a deep-breathing or muscle relaxation exercise and reach for an unusual fruit that you might not eat regularly. It could be sliced pineapple, pears, honeydew melon or blueberries. By pairing the fruit with a relaxation exercise, your brain will begin to view the fruit as something that reduces stress, turning it into comfort food.

You can read more about stress and eating in our latest Eating Lab report: Stress eating? Here’s how to train your brain to crave healthy foods.

Some surprising news about your brain

Brain Matters columnist Richard Sima wants you to think about the last time you were sick. Maybe you ran a fever, had body chills, felt lethargic and lost your appetite. You may have thought, as many of us do, that those symptoms were caused by your immune system defenders fighting off the bacteria, viruses and other pathogens invading your body.

But your brain probably played a key role, as well, and controlled many of the symptoms you felt.

Two recent studies published in Nature report that specific parts of the brain rapidly respond to illness and coordinate how the body counters it. This new understanding may also hold clues about why some people continue to have chronic problems such as long covid months after a bout of infection.

You can read more in Richard’s column: When you feel sick, you can thank your brain — it’s helping you heal.

Today’s everyday life coach is Jaime Kurtz, professor of psychology at James Madison University who has studied mindful photography.

The advice: Cultivate gratitude by taking a daily photo of something you appreciate and sharing it.

Why you should try it: Noticing your surroundings and appreciating them is called savoring, and it’s associated with overall happiness and well-being. In the one, small study, college students were instructed to take pictures of meaningful things they saw throughout their day. A control group of students was asked to use phone cameras to take random pictures of bike ramps and other objects on campus. The students who took mindful photos were happier with college life than those in the control group.

How to do it: Notice the world around you, whether you’re at work, on a train or taking a walk outdoors. When it strikes your fancy — take a photo. It could be a flower, a funny moment on the street or your cup of coffee. The act of taking the photo allows your mind to pause on your feeling of gratitude.

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