In November when I listened to a message from my Mom asking me to call as soon as possible I figured my 89-year-old father was back in the hospital. I was shocked when she told me that my healthy 62-year-old brother fell, was slurring his words, and had been admitted to the hospital. A few days later my recently retired, laid back, lean and fit brother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. My family reeled.
I’m a helper. Wellness has been a big part of my life personally and professionally for years. I went to work figuring out how I could help. My offers to fly back to the Midwest were turned down. Pat, a nurse and my sister-in-law’s, sister drove over for moral support during the surgery. Not much else was needed while my brother spent a month in the hospital and rehab recovering and regaining strength, mobility, and speech. I went to work researching. One of the great resources I found was the book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber.
The author was a 30-something doc when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Servan’s oncologist offered no info when asked about supportive dietary changes Dr. Servan could make. So he got to work researching the topic as if his life depended on it because, in fact, it did. His book is the result of that research as well as his experience plus that of his clients.
One of the bits of research he mentions is that women with the gene marker for breast cancer lived longer if they consumed at least 27 different fruits and vegetables per week. I love fruits and veggies and eat a variety every week. But I doubted that I made it to the magic 27. I decided to set myself a challenge to get to that level.
I started to keep a list in my note app on my phone. The first week my count was 28! I happy to say it wasn’t hard at all. But I wouldn’t have eaten that much variety if I weren’t focusing on it.
Here’s my list from week one.
- Mushrooms (not technically a fruit or vegetable, but I’m counting it. Hey, it’s my list.)
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potato
- Artichoke hearts
Will I maintain that? I don’t know. I want this variety in my diet to become a habit. I do eat an assortment of fruit and vegetables already, but I also have my regular “dining companions.” I don’t want to count what I’m eating every week because I know that wouldn’t be sustainable for me. But keeping the concept in mind, I believe, will help. And maybe I’ll periodically try counting.
Here are a few of my strategies for getting an array of produce into my diet.
- When at the grocery store I fill up my cart with produce first. It leaves less room for other stuff.
- I keep my usual, easy-to-prepare standards on hand at all times. Apples and berries for my smoothies, lettuce for salads and smoothies, always carrots. Plus I like to keep a few jarred veggies and frozen fruits on hand so even when I return from a trip too late to stop at the grocery store I have something to eat. My staples are fermented veggies (carrots, beets, and ginger are one of my favorites,) sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts in the veggie department and frozen berries for my fruit needs.
- Peruse the seasonal specials. I’ll go for a pomegranate, lemon cucumbers, or a persimmon when they’re in season.
- I choose dishes that easily let me include multiple veggies and fruits. My morning green smoothie usually includes 1-3 types of fruit. Maybe an apple or a cup of mixed berries. Then I add mixed greens. I love knowing that it’s early in the day and I’ve already ingested at least 3 different plants. Salads, soups, casseroles are other good options for mixing it up.
- Kathy Abascal, author of The Abascal Way, a book about how to quiet inflammation, suggests that at least 50% of breakfast and 2/3 of every other meal and snack should come from fruit and vegetables. I’ve found that a helpful guideline to follow.
- Grow your own. My friend Allison grows much of her own produce. The images she posts on Facebook of veggie friendly meals make my mouth water. Because I live in the woods AND have goats growing my own produce has been a challenge here. But I’m a regular at the farmer’s market and I keep thinking I’ll sign up for one of the many CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) in my area. In other words, there are lots of options
- Gather your veggies. I’ve been a forager since high school. In advanced biology my final project was camping for a weekend and only eating food I gathered from the woods. Yesterday I gathered some dock leaves and nibbled on violet blossoms, chickweed, and blackberry shoots all while doing yard work. DON’T do this unless you know what you’re doing. Learn a few plants and make sure you’re gathering from a place that doesn’t spray. Don’t over harvest and make sure you have permission. Those “weeds” will add variety and freshness to your diet.
Do you want to take the 27 fruit/veg challenge? Share your tips and struggles here.