You’ve seen and heard it before; food labels claiming to contain real fruits and vegetables. These labels make you think you are eating something nutritious and healthy. The untrained person is unable to decipher when they are being fooled and often end up with sugary, junk food products. Food companies are extremely clever and spend billions of dollars on persuasive marketing in order to fool their consumers into buying these fake products. Grocery stores and television food commercials are rampant with these devious claims. While the FDA does regulate some food label claims, claiming a product contains real fruit or vegetables has not yet been included in the regulations.

So how do you avoid being fooled? The best way to get your daily intake of real fruits and vegetables is to eat the real thing. Here are some tips on how to maximize your fruit and vegetable intake:

•Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables from the colors of the rainbow. Every color represents different vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health—so eat up!
•Aim for at least 5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day (and potato chips do not count!)
•Keep fruits and vegetables out in the open where you can see them. Cut up slices of fruits and veggies and place in containers in a visible spot in the fridge.
•If you can’t seem to get your daily 5 cups in, buy pre-cut or pre-packaged fruits and veggies. It may cost you a little more, but your health is worth it!
•Add fruits and vegetables to anything you can! Stuff them into your sandwiches and add them to your main dish, either steamed or raw!
•Use fruits and vegetables as ingredients. Try unsweetened applesauce as a fat-free replacement for oil in baking recipes. Add pureed cooked vegetables to thicken soups or stews.

If you are still interested in getting your fruits and vegetables through other types of food products, here is how to determine if the food contains the real thing or not. One of the first three ingredients listed should be fruit: fresh fruit, fruit puree, dried fruit, fruit juice, or fruit concentrate. Conversely, there is no real fruit if the label states natural fruit flavoring, artificial fruit flavoring, or fruit pigments.

With regards to fruit juice, the label should say “real fruit juice”. Beware of juice labels that use the word “drink” instead of “fruit juice”. However, fruit juices are not necessary. It is better to eat the fruit itself and have some ice cold water to quench your thirst. Fruit juices may be a good source of some vitamins, though they may also be high in sugar and low in fiber.

Some other things to keep in mind:
•Potato chips are not the best way to eat your potatoes. Chips are made from potatoes, but they are prepared by cooking in oil. They are high in fat and salt—so save those chips for a real special occasion!
•Fruit bars are high in sugar. Even though fruit bars usually contain some fruit, they are low in fiber and contain high amounts of sugar and calories. They actually stick to your teeth and may cause dental caries as well.
•Dried fruit leathers as well as dehydrated fruits in cereals can be misleading. It is important to pay attention to the ingredients or you may end up with high sugar products. For example, fruit roll ups are loaded with lots of corn syrup, while the raisins in raisin bran are coated with sugar. It is best to opt for 100% bran flakes and add raisins. While dehydrated fruit sold on their own may be a more healthful option since they usually retain most of their nutritive value, sometimes they can also be coated with sugar to make them sweeter.

Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and minerals that are essential to health, and fresh produce provides the most nutritional value. Incorporating fruits and vegetables into meals is an obstacle for many. Choosing the real thing is always best. However, knowing how to decode food labels will also make a difference. Make small changes over time and see what tips and tricks work for your lifestyle.

Author's Bio: 

Bonnie R. Giller offers tailored nutrition and health solutions for the most challenging medical issues such as weight loss, diabetes management and gastrointestinal conditions. She helps chronic dieters get off the diet roller coaster and finally get the body they love.

Bonnie is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She is also a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor with extensive training in intuitive eating.

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