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Ernesto’s challenge: Eat more fruits and vegetables

Focused on Health - September 2013

by Adelina Espat

Take this challenge in the Healthy Bites series. Ernesto Rojas did it. And so can you!

fruits challenge ernesto

“Fruits and vegetables used to be the smallest serving on my plate,” says 28-year-old Ernesto Rojas. “But not anymore.”

Before joining Healthy Bites in Sept. 2012, Ernesto rarely ate fruits and vegetables. Then, he learned that a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to curb cancer risks and maintain a healthy weight.

“Weight problems have always run in my family,” says Ernesto, who once weighed more than 300 pounds. “For years, I tried everything to lose weight – diets, pills, you name it. But nothing seemed to work.”

So in March 2012, Ernesto underwent weight loss surgery and lost more than 70 pounds.

“Now that I’ve lost weight, I need to learn how to keep it off for good,” Ernesto says. “That’s why I joined the Healthy Bites challenge.”

Ernesto takes the challenge

“After listening to Ernesto’s story, I instantly paired him with our fruit and vegetable challenge,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach.

fruits challenge maryREAD ALSO: Fruits and vegetables guide

“I was happy that Ernesto was closer to reaching a healthy weight,” Mary Ellen says. “But I knew he could do more to nourish his body, especially after his rapid weight loss. And eating more plant foods, like fruits and vegetables, is a great start.”

That’s because fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, fruits and vegetables have fewer calories, and more fiber and water than many other foods, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

“I suggest eating a ‘rainbow’ of fruits and vegetables every day,” Mary Ellen says. “You’ll get a variety of cancer-fighting nutrients. And, you won’t get tired of eating the same foods all the time.”

What worked for Ernesto

fruits vegetables rainbow

“This challenge was harder than I expected,” Ernesto says. “But at the end, I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed adding more fruits and vegetables to my diet.”

Ernesto offers this advice:

  • Divide to grab-n-go: “Because of my weight loss surgery, my meals have to be smaller than a kid’s meal. So, it’s helpful to divide my fruits and vegetables into baggies. That way I can just grab and go.”
  • Cut back to bulk up: “To avoid overeating, I cut back on other foods so I could bulk up on fruits and vegetables. That way I wasn’t adding unnecessary calories to my day.”
  • Add to snacks and meals: “I tried to include a fruit or vegetable in every meal or snack. For example, I’d snack on vegetables, eat yogurt and fruit in the morning, and then steam vegetables to go with dinner.”

READ ALSO: Nutrition tips for fruits and vegetables

“After I stocked my house with fruits and vegetables, eating them became a routine,” Ernesto says. “Because of this challenge, I started making better food choices and I had more energy.  And as of August 2013, I’m now down 150 pounds!”

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center