Your mother was right: you should eat your fruits and vegetables. OK, so maybe the "it will make you big and strong" part was not entirely accurate, but people who eat generous portions of fruits and vegetables as part of a well-balanced diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic disease compared to those who eat smaller amounts. The food group also provides vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and is low in fat and calories and high in fiber and water content.
But how do you know how many fruits and vegetables you should eat each day? And how do you work all of them into your daily diet?
Here's how to eat the right amount per day to establish a healthy eating plan.
- Every five years, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly issue dietary guidelines for Americans, which are intended to guide policymakers, nutritionists, and nutrition education activities. The most recent guidelines were published in January of 2005, and the recommendations were that adults consuming 2,000 calories per day eat 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day, with that amount to increase or decrease in relation to a corresponding increase or decrease in energy expenditure and caloric intake. Basically these facts translate to anywhere from 5-13 servings of vegetables and fruits daily depending on how active you are and how many calories you consume.
- 1/2 cup of fruit is equivalent to 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, one medium fruit or 1/4 cup of dried fruit. 1/2 cup of vegetables is equivalent to 1/2 cup of cut-up raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables and 1/2 cup of vegetable juice.
- Remember to choose a variety from all five vegetable subgroups. You may be wondering what the best vegetables to eat are, but they're all good. The vegetables subgroups are:
- Dark green
- Starchy vegetables
- Other vegetables
- The 5 A Day program, is a public private partnership with the following members: American Cancer Society (ACS), American Heart Association (AHA), American Diabetes Association (ADA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), California Department of Health Services (CDHS), National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as produce promoters. I list this group to drive home the point that if heavy hitters like these are working together to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, you probably want to follow their advice. Their website, 5ADay, has an online test to help you know how many you should eat each day. It also has ideas on how to integrate fruits and vegetables into your diet as well as additional resources--including publications--for nutrition professionals. Ironically, the "5 A Day" guideline has become a bit of a misnomer now that an even higher daily consumption is recommended.
Now you know how many servings of fruits and vegetables per day you should have. In short, there are only a couple of reasons why you would want to lessen your fruit and vegetable intake and even then, on a temporary basis only. Those reasons would be:
- You are desperately underweight, and fruits and vegetables fill you up so much that you do not have enough room left for more high-calorie food. (In truth, how many of us have this problem?)
- If you suffer from diarrhea, you may want to limit seeded berries, as in large quantities they tend to have a laxative effect.
But once the diarrhea is resolved, and/or you've put on a few pounds as needed, it's back to the cutting board for you!