Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fruits and Veggies: More Matters

An apple a day keeps the doctor away...or so the saying goes. Unlike some other oft repeated sayings, this one seems to have some truth to it. Fruits and vegetables are true superfoods. High in nutrients and antioxidants, and low in calories they should be an essential part of your daily routine (especially when losing weight). The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that you fill half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal and snack. Are you getting enough?

On average, Americans eat only 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The recommended amount is 5-13 servings. How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you need per day? Check out this calculator from the CDC. You enter your age, sex, and activity level and it will give you the number of cups of fruits and veggies you should consume each day. For me: 2 cup of fruit, and 3 cups of veggies. One thing is clear. Most of us are not eating enough fruits and veggies.

What are the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables?
  1. Low in calories and high in fiber and water. Because fruits and veggies a largely composed of water and fiber there are few calories in a large volume of food. They are great for filling you up.
  2. Rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamins A,C, and K, potassium, folate and magnesium. These important nutrients are often lacking in the American diet.
  3. May reduce risk of disease including:
    • Heart disease and stroke: A JNCI study showed that people who ate 8 or more serving of fruit and vegetables reduced their chances of a heart attack or stroke by 30% compared to people who ate only 1.5 servings per day.  Two other studies showed people who eat more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day reduce their risk of stroke and heart disease by about 20% compared to people who eat less than 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
    • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and is therefore important to keep in a healthy range. A study examining a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables found that patients with high blood pressure who adhered to this diet reduced their systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
    • Type 2 diabetes: Eating leafy green vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of getting diabetes by 14%.
    • Obesity: Consuming low-energy (low calorie) foods (like fruits and vegetables) has been shown to reduce obesity compared to consuming high-energy processed food.
    • Certain types of cancer: The jury is still out. It's not clear if consuming fruits and vegetables lowers cancer risk. However, certain fruits and veggies probably protect against certain types of cancer including cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, stomach, and colon-recutm.
    • Diverticulitis: Fruits and veggies are very high in fiber, which absorbs water and expands as it passes through the digestive system. This can make bowel movements more regular. And, it may decrease the pressure in the colon, helping to prevent diverticulosis (irritated pouches in the colon).
    • Cataract and macular degeneration: The risk of developing these two age-related eye diseases is reduced by eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies.
  4. They're colorful. Fruits and vegetables add nutritious color to your plate, making meals look good, and mealtime more fun.
  5. Rich in antioxidants. These compounds remove potentially damaging free radicals from your cells.
  6. They're delicious!
How can you incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet?
  1. Prep fruit and veggies in advance. After a trip to the grocery store, immediately wash and chop all your fruit and veggies and put them in easily accessible containers in your refrigerator. This will make them easy to grab for snacks or to throw into dishes while cook. A little bit of advance preparation will make it convenient to eat your fruits and veggies all week.
  2. Snack on fruits and veggies. Add some protein for an extra hearty snack. Try Ants on a log (celery topped with peanut butter and raisins), apple slices with peanut butter, yogurt with berries, or pineapple chunks with cottage cheese and sunflower seeds (my personal favorite). Make a smoothie. Munch on some baby carrots. Eat frozen grapes instead of high calorie frozen treats.
  3. Try a new fruit or veggie each week. Have you tried chard? Kale? Kiwi? Spaghetti squash? Papaya? Cabbage? Mango? Eggplant? You just might find some new favorites.
  4. Sneak fruits and veggies into your regular meals. Add veggies to sandwiches and burgers. Top pizza with veggies. Top cereal or oatmeal with berries or raisins. Puree veggies and add to pasta sauce. Add veggies to soups. Mix fruit in with your yogurt. Replace 1/3 of the potatoes in mashed potatoes with cauliflower or sweet potato. Top ice cream with fruit fresh.
  5. Try some new fruit and veggie rich recipes.
Will eating more fruits and vegetables help me lose weight?
Yes! It's not a magical weight loss panacea. But, eating more fruits and veggies is great for weight loss. They are low in calories, but high in fiber and water. This will help to fill you up (because you are eating a large volume of food) with fewer calories.

Get more fruits and vegetables with these recipes
Here are some tried and true favorites from my blog:
Banana Soft Serve
Rice and Lentil Pilaf

For more recipes check out this Fruit and Vegetable Recipe Search for a great collection of recipes. You can enter a particular fruit or veggie you have on hand as a keyword and get a list of recipes using it. And, it even searches by color so you can make sure you are getting variety.

Or, check out these fruit and vegetable recipes from the Mayo Clinic healthy recipe index. Delicious and healthy!

How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat every day? Do you have any tips for getting more into your diet? If you're not getting enough- why?


  1. Wonderful post! So informative and full of good information. I do okay most days but there are some days that slip by without me eating enough fruits or vegetables.

  2. I know I need to eat more veggies. I am a fruit addict, but you really laid it out with all the reasons why. Thanks.
    I have found taking them to work in my lunch helps force me to eat them.

    1. Me too. I always get enough fruit, but sometimes I don't get enough veggies (especially leafy greens).