Have you ever challenged yourself to improve your eating habits or to eat more healthily? Did you vow to go on a diet once? Or was it a few more times than that?
OK, you’ve got the desire to change. But how to turn the desire into action?
This is where it feels SO frustrating! It’s easy to wish for but not so easy to make it happen. You want something easy to do, practical and fun.
Turning a goal into a challenge is a fun way to develop better habits. One of the easiest ways to improve your eating habits is simply to eat more fruit and vegetables. But what would push you towards doing that?
I came across this challenge. Eat 200 different plant foods. It’s really easy as you start off, although it gradually gets a bit harder. It’s practical – after all, you buy fruit and vegetables already. And it’s fun because the challenge is to keep looking for ones you haven’t eaten yet. You make all sorts of interesting discoveries.
Here’s how to improve your eating habits: take the 200 fruit and vegetable challenge.
How do you do a 200 Fruit and Vegetable Challenge?
You’re aiming to eat 200 different plant foods. Not all at once, (which would be very bad for you) but over a period that is as long as you want.
All you do is keep count of the different types of plants that you eat. It’s easier if you keep a list. As you progress, it gets harder to remember which ones you’ve already eaten. So note it down when you eat a plant food that you haven’t eaten since you began the challenge.
Try keeping a record in your journal or on a calendar if you have one on your wall. I keep a list in a word document that I keep on my computer. You might prefer an excel spreadsheet.)
If you’re more a visual person, try taking photos and put them into a document with a caption to make it easy to search. You could make a collage that grows over time. I’ve put together some photos of a few of the foods I’ve eaten and made this little collage.
Plant Foods or Good Old Fashioned Fruit and Veg?
‘Plant foods’ sounds a bit fuddy-duddy don’t you think? So I prefer to think of the challenge as eating more fruit and veg. But, as I’ve learned from doing this challenge, scientifically, the plant kingdom doesn’t include fungi and some algae (seaweeds). Although they used to be included as plants, that is now ‘obsolete’ according to Wikipedia.
But in the challenge, I include all of these foods as they are all from plants of one kind or another:
- Fungi (mushrooms)
- Algae (seaweeds
Obviously, in this challenge, meat, fish and dairy don’t count. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be a vegetarian to do this. And you can still do it if you’re a vegan or if you want to cut out grains to be gluten-free. In fact, if you’re already on a diet of some sort, you can still do this challenge (subject to medical advice).
Why is the Challenge for 200 Fruit and Veg?
200 is not a magic number. I saw a challenge for 200 on Dr Terry Wahl’s website so went for that number. It’s a lot of different fruit and veg!
If you want to make it easier, set your goal as, say, the 50 fruit and vegetable challenge.
If you want to challenge yourself even more, then increase the number you try to find and eat. You could aim for 300. The range of fruit and veg accessible to you partly depends on where you live, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Why Eat More Fruit and Veg: 10 Positive Reasons
The idea is not just to eat more fruit and veg in terms of numbers, but to encourage you to better eating habits. Healthy eating habits will help you to live longer and in better health. So how does this challenge help you to reach these two aims?
- Eating more fruit and vegetables cuts your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes
- Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables increases your intake of fibre, which is good for your microbiome. You digest your food better.
- Fruit and veg are naturally low in fat, salt and cholesterol.
- Your health improves with a wider variety of vitamins and minerals in your diet
- Your immune system strengthens from the increased amounts of phytochemicals you’re eating
- You read food labels more to find unusual ingredients which helps you to appreciate the nutritional value of different foods
- Your brain works a little bit harder, coping with new items and new tastes, which builds up your cognitive reserves
- You strengthen your powers of developing good habits
- Stress is easier to deal with when you become more comfortable about being outside your comfort zone
- A positive purpose encourages a positive mindset, which also increases your chances of living longer
Actually there are loads more reasons to eat more fruit and vegetables – that’s going to have to be another article! Meantime, get going and reap all the advantages, whether you know about them or not.
The Rules (and How to Know When You’re Cheating)
I didn’t start off with any rules at all other than listing plant foods that I actually ate and trying to eat more fruit and veg rather than other foods. As I started doing my 200 fruit and vegetable challenge, I realised that there are lots of different ways of ‘cheating’.
I limited myself a little bit with rules that I made up as I went along. They mainly relate to the myriad different varieties of any particular product.
Here’s the way to cheat. (Nobody needs to know that you did.) You could theoretically just eat 200 different varieties of apples or tomatoes to get to the target of 200 plant foods. And if that’s what you want to do, go for it! It’s a challenge to find 200 different varieties of any one kind of plant food!
Don’t eat them all on one day.
Don’t forget that you need more than one plant species to make up a balanced diet.
And variety is the spice of life!
Compromising is Not Cheating
So here are the rules that I came up with so as to make sure the 200 fruit and vegetable challenge takes you a little bit out of your comfort zone. (This is meant to be a challenge so you can’t have it too easy peasy).
Surprise! Let’s talk about potatoes.
There are about 500 different varieties of ordinary potatoes (think Maris Piper, King Edwards or Desiree) and 400 different sweet potatoes. Can you imagine 500 potatoes in a supermarket? There’d be no room left for anything else.
But even in a small shop or supermarket, you’ll find two or three varieties of potato on sale.
I’ve limited myself to 3 different categories: white potatoes, purple potatoes and sweet potatoes. You could count red potatoes as well. (Chips or French fries are NOT a variety of potato!)
Another example: tomatoes. There are 8 times more varieties of tomato than potatoes! A mind-boggling 4000 different varieties of tomatoes. How on earth can you get those into a few tidy categories? Well, mine are ordinary tomatoes, black tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. If you want, you could chuck in beef tomatoes.
Make similar rules for apples, pears, cabbages, radishes, peas, beans – the list of varieties of fruit and vegetables seems endless!
Do Your Fruit and Vegetable Challenge Safely
The whole idea of challenging yourself is to make yourself feel better. So, don’t do a challenge if the idea is overwhelming as it will just add to your stress. Consider adapting the challenge to something that suits you and makes it not so overwhelming.
For example, try eating one new vegetable a week instead of trying to find as many new things as you can in the first week.
Don’t eat food groups to which you’re allergic. I’ve quite a few friends who are allergic to nuts, another friend who is allergic to tomatoes and loads who can’t do gluten.
Do get checked out for dietary changes if you are taking medicines or have some medical problem. My husband is not supposed to eat grapefruit for example. It’s always safer to check if there are any reasons why you shouldn’t do something, especially if you suffer from any health problems for which you’re receiving treatment.
Squeezing Juicy Fun out of those Fruit and Veg
Part of the idea of this challenge was to make new eating habits more fun. So how do you get more fun out of 200 Fruit and Veg? Here’s what we’ve found.
It’s transformed our shopping experience as we scour the supermarket green-grocery section or the farmers’ markets for new fruit and veg we haven’t come across before. We even went out to an organic farm, chasing down new plants to eat. Fresh herbs – yum and really healthy.
My husband has become a dab hand at finding new fruit and veg to try and has brought me home some really great presents, such as dragon fruits and Japanese aubergines.
With all the new veggies we’ve found, we’ve tried a lot of new recipes. Most were successful, although we had our share of failures too! Taro didn’t go down that well, although I’m sure it’s because we don’t know the best way to cook it. Anyone know any good recipes for taro?
This taro bubble tea looks beautiful and refreshing. So why did our cooked taro look like grey fish glue?
We’ve had a lot of fun telling people about the challenge. Most people have been intrigued and want to know more.
So quite apart from the health benefits we hope to reap, we’ve had a great time doing this challenge.
More Fun and Better Eating Habits
Imagine that you’ve taken up the 200 Fruit and Vegetable Challenge and you’ve successfully completed it. Imagine how you’ve changed your eating patterns. It’s second nature now to include more vegetables in your meals and fruits as special treats. Yes, your eating habits are way better than before the challenge.
You’ve really enjoyed searching out new plant foods to try. Then when you got them home, they sat there looking beautiful and inspired you to try new recipes and experience new flavours and textures. No wonder you want to eat more of them.
It’s been a lot of fun and looking back, you realise that you’ve achieved the aim of the challenge. You’ve improved your eating habits. But best of all, you feel that you’re creating the best chances for your own long-term good health and a longer life.
So now, all you’ve got to do is to get going on that list of fruit and vegetables and in a few months or maybe a year, you will have aced the challenge. Go for it!
Feature photo Organic Vegetables for Sale kindly provided by © Dancing the Land Farm.
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