A HIGHER intake of fruit and vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. We know these foods are good for us, so why are so many of us vegetable dodgers? With recent advice suggesting we should aim to eat seven to 10 portions of vegetables and fruit a day, and a shocking 82 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland failing to reach their basic five-a-day, isn’t it time we made some changes for the good of our health?

::Vegetable dodgers

If you don’t like your vegetables then try different ones. With varieties in taste, textures and colours, there is bound to be at least a few that you will enjoy. As people improve their nutritional intake, their palate tends to change and they start to enjoy foods they otherwise avoided. Steamed green veg are transformed with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and roasting vegetables makes them so much tastier.

:: What is a portion?

An easy guide is to think of one portion as the size of your fist. That’s about the size of an apple, pear or carrot, or a cupful of peas, broccoli or berries.

:: Simple ways to eat more fruit and vegetables

– Start at breakfast. Slice a banana on to your toast, add some berries to your cereal, or try some fruit and yoghurt for a light breakfast.

– Don’t ignore the fruit bowl as you pass it on your way out the door. Pick one or two pieces of fruit from it to snack on later in the day.

– Chop a few carrots, peppers or celery sticks to keep in the fridge for a snack with some houmous.

– It is easy to add some extra veg at lunchtime. A bowl of soup with your usual sandwich, a vegetable-packed super salad, or just handful of cherry tomatoes with your usual lunch will do.

– Ideally we should be aiming for two portions (about half our plate) of veg with dinner. If this sounds too daunting, then just make your portion sizes ever so slightly bigger. It all adds up.

– Instead of thinking about a couple of portions of vegetables plonked on the side of your plate, think of adding more to dishes like curries, chilli and Bolognese. Add some cauliflower and spinach to your usual curry recipe, some grated carrot to chilli (you won’t even know it’s there), or pack your Bolognese with extra peppers and an extra half an onion.

– Check out the frozen food aisle of your supermarket. You will find a few ideas there that go way beyond just a bag of frozen peas. There’s frozen vegetables to stir-fry, for steaming, or roasting veg mixes. I always have some frozen berries in my basket as they are packed with phytonutrients and are a fantastic source of antioxidants.

– Look out for some creative new ways to eat more vegetables. With cauliflower ‘rice’, courgette ‘noodles’ and butternut squash ‘lasagne’ making trends, these new creations are simple ideas to eat more veg.

– Eat a brassica vegetable every day. The phytochemicals found in these sulphur-rich vegetables have been linked to reduction in cancer risk far and above other vegetables. With a wide variety of vegetables in this group, you can choose from broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, pak choi, rocket, watercress, rocket, purple sprouting…

– Eat a rainbow. The more colourful our palate of fruit and veg, the more nutrition we pack into our diet.

If you are already reaching your five-a-day target, then remember that current thinking is that we should aim for five portions of vegetables and two of fruit a day, so set your target a little higher and keep up the good work.

This article first appeared in The Irish News on 24th February 2018.