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Hacks to Habit

By Andrea Nikolai

Nine out of 10 Americans don’t consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Close to one-quarter of Americans do not eat any fruit. (1) Fruits and vegetables have a high nutrient density and fiber content and offer a multitude of health benefits, including enhancing gut microbiota and reducing the risk of multiple diseases. A growing body of research shows that people who eat fruits and vegetables express higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness than those who eat very little. Eating fruits and vegetables is also associated with positive feelings. (2,3) Sounds good to me!


Why don’t we eat more fruits and vegetables?

A study by the Produce for Better Health Foundation showed that people who do eat fruits and vegetables more often reported similar barriers to those who don’t eat as much. Both groups said barriers included finding options that appeal to the whole family, lack of preparation skills, and physical limitations; but those who eat more fruits and vegetables found ways to overcome them.


The study discovered some hacks (clever solutions to tricky problems) that people who eat more fruits and vegetables do. We can get ideas from them and see which hacks might work for us. These hacks helped make eating fruits and vegetables a habit. Habits are automatic behaviors that have been internalized. Habitually eating more fruits and vegetables can help you make better choices even when self-control is low. Research has proven over time that habits even outperform willpower! (4,5)


Most people who eat more fruits and vegetables eat more than one type of fruit or vegetable each day. For example, among high-frequency vegetable eaters, only 1% eat only one type per day, while 31% of low-frequency vegetable eaters consume only one type. Variety can help!


Here are some convenience and usage hacks that those who eat more fruits and vegetables do more often than the people who don’t. Maybe one of these hacks will also work for you. Many benefits await you!

  • Keep fruit on the counter.

  • Prepare fruit ahead of time for use later.

  • Put prepped produce at eye level in the refrigerator.

  • Have a variety of fruit and vegetable forms on hand.

  • Top favorite foods (such as cereal and yogurt) with fruit.

  • Have ready-to-use vegetables for easy meal starters.

  • Add vegetables to sandwiches and burgers.

  • Plan snacks and meals ahead of time that include vegetables.

  • Enhance the flavor with herbs and spices.

  • Serve produce before the main meal.

  • Prepare and/or eat meals and snacks as a family.

References

  1. PBH Hacks to Habits Executive Summary, 2022. https://fruitsandveggies.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/PBH-Hacks-To-Habits-Executive-Summary-2022-10-7-2022.pdf

  2. Produce for Better Health Foundation. Novel Approaches To Measuring & Promoting Fruit & Vegetable Consumption. Produce for Better Health Foundation website. Published 2017.. https://fruitsandveggies.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ Novel-Approaches-Executive-Summary.pdf

  3. Mujcic R, Oswald AJ. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(8):1504-1510. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303260

  4. Neal DT, Wood W, Drolet A. How do people adhere to goals when willpower is low? The profits (and pitfalls) of strong habits. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013;104(6):959.

  5. Galla BM, Duckworth AL. More than resisting temptation: Beneficial habits mediate the relationship between self-control and positive life outcomes. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015;109(3):508-525. doi:10.1037/ pspp0000026

 

Andrea Nikolai, MPH, RDN, LDN is a passionate, upbeat, and self-motivated registered dietitian nutritionist with a unique background of marketing and nutrition. She enjoys thinking creatively and working with food and nutrition to empower others and make it easier for people to make healthier choices.


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