Look for advice on a healthy, balanced diet and you will undoubtedly find fresh fruit and vegetables on the list. The even better news is that these nutrient-rich and natural goodies can be your best friends if you're looking to lose a few pounds. Put your five-a-day to good use with these handy hints and tips.
Why are fruit and vegetables so important?
Simply put, fruit and veg is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are essential for the body to work efficiently, and help to protect it from disease. Not only will they improve how you look and feel, they are low in calories and fat, and high in fibre, all of which aids weight loss.
How much should I eat?
The minimum five-a-day consumption will mean that fruit and veg make up about a third of your daily diet. They should ideally be incorporated into every meal, and also make for a healthy snack, and there are benefits to be gained from fresh, dried, tinned, frozen and cooked varieties.
What counts as a portion varies depending on the fruit or vegetable, and how it is prepared.
For instance, a piece of medium-sized fruit such an apple, orange or banana is one of your five-a-day, while just a handful of fresh grapes or berry fruits, or a heaped tablespoon of dried fruit is a single portion. A 150ml glass of unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice is also a one of your daily portions, but don't think you can get all your five-a-day by downing five glasses of juice.
A side salad or 80g of cooked veg like carrots or broccoli is counted as one portion.
Fruit and veg for weight loss
While all fruit and veg is good for you, if you're on a weight loss mission, it's important to remember that some contain more calories than others.
For example, two small 150g apples amount to around 156 calories, while a 225g banana is 200. You could also eat six times the amount of spinach than sweetcorn for the same number of calories. The key is to choose a mixture of colours in your fruit and veg - that way you will almost certainly guarantee you get a good mix of healthy nutrients.
And remember that where fruit and veg really helps with a weight loss diet is by filling you up, so opt for the bigger portion for the same amount of calories and you won't be tempted to reach for the high-fat, sugary snacks. For instance, you can munch on an apple, a satsuma and a small handful of strawberries, where just one tablespoon of raisins will provide the same 100 calorie count. Similarly, swap the cheese and butter on your jacket potato and add a couple of portions of veg, and you'll feel fuller for longer whilst consuming far fewer calories.
Visit www.caloriecounting.co.uk and check out the resources page to find a handy list of the calories in a variety of popular fruit and veg.
Tips for getting more in your diet
If you're not used to a fruit and veg-packed diet, adding more to your daily diet is easier than you think. For breakfast, add grapes or berries to yoghurt or cereal - but beware of fruit juice if you want to lose weight, even unsweetened varieties can be high in calories.
To keep your diet on the straight and narrow, make sure you take some sticks of celery or carrots with low-fat dip, or add a banana to your packed lunch to help you avoid that diet-dangerous vending machine.
At home, add veggies to all your meals, whether it's carrots and peppers to a pasta dish, or include a side salad or two portions of veg to your main meals of the day. Beans and pulses are a great way to fill yourself up and are easily added to stews, bakes, salads and soups for a healthy, hearty dinner that won't leave your stomach rumbling.
And for that little sweet craving, keep some berry fruits in the fridge and reach for those rather than biscuits at the end of the day.
Have you managed to lose weight by adding more fruit and veg to your diet? Share your recipe ideas and tips below...