Research out of the U.K. has reiterated what your mom has been telling you for years: eat your darn fruits and veggies.
The study of 65,000 people out of the University College of London (UCL) earlier this year found that consuming a minimum of seven portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, compared to less than one serving, will reduce your risk of death by any cause by 42 per cent, the risk of cancer by 25 per cent and heart disease by 31 per cent.
I don't know about you, but I like those odds.
But despite the windfall of research linking fresh fruit and vegetables to a healthier life — not to mention all the nagging mothers out there — most Canadians aren't even coming close to eating their suggested daily servings. In fact, the average Canadian man consumes just 3.5 servings a day compared to the eight to 10 recommended by Canada's Food Guide, while women are faring only slightly better by eating 4.3 servings of the seven to eight recommended, according to a 2013 study by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.
So what's the problem here? We have all the research at our fingertips, yet our diets haven't followed suit. According to local registered dietician and personal chef, Marnie Melsted, the answer lies in our increasingly busy lifestyles.
"It's a combination of people thinking it takes longer (to cook vegetables) and that they don't have the ability to make them," she said, noting that most Canadians have no problem eating fresh fruit, but veggies are another story.
Of course, vegetables are exactly what Canadians need to be consuming more of, reinforced by the UCL study which showed that veggies have the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion lowering overall risk of death by 16 per cent while a portion of fruit was associated with just a four-per-cent reduction.
The challenge for dieticians like Melsted is convincing people that preparing a nutritious meal with fresh vegetables doesn't have to take up too much of your coveted free time. In fact, according to a 2011 study commissioned by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 44 per cent of respondents said healthy meals take too long to make.
Melsted, who is also an adult chronic disease specialist, said changing that perception is her No. 1 goal.
"In reality, when I do a cooking class with someone and show them how easy it is to make something fresh from vegetables, a lot of people are like, 'Wow, that was so easy. I can do that,'" she said. "But what they really like better is if I just cook it for them."
There are a few ways you can cut back on cooking time using fresh produce, Melsted said, recommending shoppers do all the necessary prep work as soon as they bring their groceries home from the store.
"It's really important to prep your vegetables right away," she said. "Clean it, wash it, bag it so that when you're busy you're just grabbing that broccoli or Brussels sprouts or cauliflower or carrots."
She also suggests roasting your veggies as a quick and delicious way to get your recommended daily servings, and said there's nothing wrong with buying frozen veggies — which are typically picked in peak season and flash-freezed to preserve their nutrient content — if you don't have the time to make meals fresh.
Check out Melsted's health-conscious catering company at www.marniescooking.com for more information.