Michaël Sels is the head dietician at the Antwerp University Hospital (UZA). He also has a cooking show on the Belgian TV channel Njam, in which he introduces new recipes that inspire viewers to eat more plant-based foods. We talked to him about why it is so important to eat more fruit and vegetables, and why it is sometimes difficult to add them to our menu.
Der einfachste Weg zu einer gesünderen Ernährung ist für jeden, mehr pflanzliche Lebensmittel in den täglichen Speiseplan aufzunehmen. - Michael Sels
Why we should eat more plant-based food
As people become more health-conscious, we see a proliferation of diet hypes, from intermittent fasting to juice-based diets. But really, the easiest way to a healthier diet for anyone is to add more plant-based foods to your daily intake. It’s the one diet that you will be able to maintain for your entire life, from your childhood into your old age.
It is no secret that plant-based foods – like vegetables and fruit – contain a wealth of nutrients that are beneficial to our health and well-being, including vitamins, minerals and fibres. Bu putting more of them on your menu it will help to prevent diseases and will add many healthy years to your life. It will also enable you to control consumption of meat and other food categories that are less beneficial. Last but not least, it’s also the right thing to do for our planet, as it lowers our environmental footprint.
Why we do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
Sadly, we live in an obesogenic environment. Everything is designed for maximum comfort and minimum effort. When it comes to food, we are surrounded by advertising for processed food products that in most cases contain too much sugar and fat than is good for us. Portions are getting bigger and everywhere we go we can buy unhealthy snacks and soda drinks but fresh fruit and vegetables are a lot harder to find.
So it comes as no surprise that in most Western countries the consumption of fruit and vegetables is far below daily recommended intakes, which amount to 400 gram of vegetables and at least two pieces of fruit. It is estimated that worldwide we only consume about two-thirds of that recommended amount. In Belgium, less than 5% of the population reaches that number when it comes to vegetables, and less than 10% eats enough fruit.
What we can do about it
Eating is more than just putting nutrients in your body. It’s an integral part of our social life and deeply ingrained into our cultural habits. We need to inspire people to put more plant-based foods on the menu in every way we can. One way of doing this is to increase the number of eating moments. Why not include fruit and vegetables into our breakfast or aperitif? Or use them as the basis for cakes, wraps, pizza crusts or sandwich spreads? As a side effect, this will also allow us to use residual streams which otherwise go to waste.
Convenience is another important issue. Traditional cooking methods usually take up a lot of our time. Introducing new and alternative ways to prepare them, can provide people with healthy food while giving them back some time to do other things. We need to find ways to fit fruit and vegetables into our on-the-go lifestyle and make them as easy to consume as other snackable foods. How can we add them to the lunchbox of our children? How we can we eat them during lunch break at work?
What Greenyard can do to help
We need to involve every actor in society if we want to realise this transition to healthier and more sustainable eating habits: consumers, retailers, growers, politicians, the media, etc=. A company like Greenyard is certainly in a unique position to make a difference, as they can help us to find creative solutions to promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables and increase their visibility.
The industry can make things easier for consumers by developing pre-cut, pre-assembled and ready-to-eat solutions that save time during preparation. By including recipes on the packaging, we can help people discover new ways of using them in their meals. Introducing new varieties, colours, shapes and sizes can turn fruit and vegetables into a more attractive proposition for consumers.