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Fruits and Veggies: How Much Do We Really Need and Why?

A lot of us suspect we’re not getting enough fruits and vegetables. After all, we’re always reading that most people don’t. Plus, no one’s perfect. But how much is enough and why does it matter so much? This month is National Fruits and Veggies, More Matters Month — the perfect time to tackle these questions.

How much do you need?

According to the Fruits & Veggies, More Matters campaign, experts recommend eating between 5 and 9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Examples of one serving include:

  • 1 medium piece of fruit
  • ¼ cup of dried fruit
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) 100% fruit or vegetable juice
  • 1 cup of leafy vegetables
  • ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables

Because fruit has natural sugars, it’s best to emphasize the veggie part of the equation, aiming for 3-6 servings of vegetables per day and 2-3 of fruit.

 

Are you getting enough?

The simple answer is: probably not.

A 2007 study found only 11 percent of Americans manage to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables.[i]  Another study that polled kids found less than 10 percent of high schoolers met that same benchmark.[ii] So, it’s true, as a group, we really don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

 

Why does it matter?

What happens when you do eat a lot of fruits and vegetables? Your heart health improves, and you run a lower risk of having a stroke or getting diabetes. These are compelling motivators. But the benefits go beyond disease prevention. Eating fruits and vegetables is linked to a sunny mood, higher energy, lower levels of stress, and even a healthy glow. [i],[ii],[iii] What it comes down to is that when you pack your diet with produce, you feel better and look better. What’s not to love?

 

How can you eat more?

For me, implementing one simple dietary rule has been key to increasing my fruit and veggie intake: Every meal or snack must have a fruit or vegetable. That’s it! I don’t count servings because honestly that’s too complicated for me as a busy working mom of a very active five-year-old. But I know that if I eat three meals and two snacks, I’ll get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. And by following the MyPlate recommendation to fill half of my plate with produce, I know I’m in the fruit and veggie sweet spot.

Here’s an example of what my diet looks like on a typical day:

  • Breakfast: 1 egg, 3 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on 3 slices of tomato drizzled with olive oil, and steamed broccoli or greens
  • Snack: ½ large apple, sliced and covered with peanut or almond butter
  • Lunch: A big salad with mixed lettuces, topped with a handful of nuts, a sprinkle of cheese, and some kind of protein (either a sausage, canned tuna, or baked salmon)
  • Snack: Fruit smoothie with banana, berries, and avocado
  • Dinner: Steamed yams with butter, stir-fried veggies with olive oil, and some kind of protein (pork chops, burger, stir-fried chicken, etc.)

(Full disclosure: my daily diet also typically includes dark chocolate and red wine. 😊)

One way to make sure you always have fresh fruit and vegetables on hand is to grow your own in a Tower Garden. If you have strawberries, melons, green beans, eggplant, tomatoes, kale, and squash just steps from your kitchen door, adding some fruit to your breakfast or making a healthy, veggie-filled dinner is a snap.

How do you make sure you and your family are eating enough fruits and vegetables?

 

References

[1] Casagrande SS, et al. Have Americans increased their fruit and vegetable intake? The trends between 1988 and 2002. Am J Prev Med. 2007 Apr;32(4):257-63.

[1] Associated Press. 9 in 10 teens fall short on fruits and veggies. NBCnews.com. Sept. 29, 2009. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/33071814/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/teens-fall-short-fruits-veggies/#.VAeRVfldWSo

[1] Gray N. High fruit and veg intake helps to keep the blues at bay, say researchers. Nutraingredients. 2013 Jan 25. http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/High-fruit-and-veg-intake-helps-to-keep-the-blues-at-bay-say-researchers

[1] Whiteman H.  Eating fruits and vegetables may lower women’s stress risk. Medical News Today. 2017 Mar 16. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/316414.php

[1] Whitehead RD. You are what you eat: Within subject increases in fruit and vegetable consumption confer beneficial skin-color changes. PLoSOne. 2012 Mar 7;7(12). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296758/

 

 

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