Health

Eat Better, Live Better

Your mother used to pile your dinner plate high with greens and sweet potatoes and told you to “eat all your vegetables so you will grow up big and strong.” You probably frowned at the broccoli, string beans, okra and peas. Well, she was more right than you know! Your mother used to pile your dinner plate high with greens and sweet potatoes and told you to “eat all your vegetables so you will grow up big and strong.” You probably frowned at the broccoli, string beans, okra and peas. Well, she was more right than you know! Fruits and vegetables promote good health and give us many vitamins and nutrients we need to stay healthy. And the simple fact is that most people don’t eat enough of them. We’re used to being told what not to eat, but we often forget about the good things we should be eating more of.

Did you know that eating fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk of diseases—like certain types of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease? The National Cancer Institute tells us men should be eating nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day as part of a healthy, active lifestyle. In the U.S., almost all people fall short of their recommended 5 to 9 servings (amounts vary depending on body size and activity), but black men eat less than any other group. And, considering that black men are more likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure and many types of cancer, we need to pay as much attention to what we put in our bodies as the stuff we keep out. This ultimately could be a matter of life or death.

Our mothers definitely were right. Eating 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day is easier than you think. Most of us eat three meals each day with snacks in between, making it easy to fit 9 servings in. A serving is very small. Picture 1⁄2 cup cooked beans, which is about the size of a baseball—that’s a serving! So is a medium-size piece of fruit like an apple or orange. A big salad can be up to 3 servings. Once you make the commitment to eating healthier, you’ll find the way to eat 9 A Day. You may even find yourself eating more than 9, like me. Replacing high-calorie fatty foods with more fruits and vegetables that are naturally low in fat, salt, and calories and being more active has helped me lose weight and lower my blood pressure—and I feel great!

We pick up our eating habits from the people around us and our social environments. Like my parents and grandparents did, sometimes we eat fatty meats and add salt for flavor—habits that may increase our risk for heart disease and cancer. Eating well doesn’t mean we have to give up everything we like. It just means making an effort to eat more fruits and vegetables and a little less fried chicken. This is an easy change to make for better health. It’s not too late to start listening to your mother. As the saying goes, if father knows best…mama knows better.

Dr. Terry Mason is the chief of urology at Mercy Hospital in Chicago and the Director for the Center for New Life. He is also the Midwest regional Chair of the National Black Leadership Cancer Control Network. Learn more about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables at www.9aday.cancer.gov.

September 15, 2003
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