You’ve probably heard it your whole life, from doctors, parents, teachers, etc. “Eat your fruits and vegetables!” While it’s great that this has been instilled in us from a young age, this is obviously pretty vague. How much exactly are we supposed to be eating? Are we actually getting enough? And why is it so important?
What Are The Recommendations?
Every 5 years, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and HHS (US Department of Health and Human Services) update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This is exactly what it sounds like: a rundown of various dietary recommendations. And it’s updated each time based on the new research that’s come out.
A few years ago, the recommendations for fruits and veggies was 5 – 1/2 cup portions per day. In short, the phrase “5-a-day” was used as a way to remember. But the recommendations have since become 5 full cup portions of fruits and vegetables per day. This means about 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables per day (depending slightly on age and sex). Obviously it’s difficult to double your F&V intake overnight. And a lot of Americans have struggled with this.
Are We Meeting These Goals?
Basically, no. According to a study conducted by the CDC in 2015, only 1 in 10 Americans get the recommended fruits and vegetables! Specifically, men, younger adults, and people living in poverty have the lowest intake. There are a lot of reasons for this. While there’s no #1 proven reason, there are a lot of pretty obvious ones. Americans value convenience more than any other country in the world. As years go on, each generation spends less and less time preparing their own food. Processed foods are more convenient, cheaper, and are high in sugar, salt, and fat, making them easier to crave. We also tend to eat way more protein-dense foods than we need, which also doesn’t leave much room for F&Vs.
Why Is It Important?
While it may seem minuscule to eat that extra cup or two of fruits and veggies each day, it’s actually extremely important and can make a world of difference in your overall longterm health. Chronic diseases and other preventable diseases are a huge problem in America, specifically diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers. Risk for all of these has been proven to be significantly reduced when you are consuming 5 cups of fruits and vegetables each day.
Tips To Sneak In Extra Fruits & Veggies
- Keep a bowl of fresh fruit in the kitchen.
- Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season.
- Keep dried fruit in the kitchen for a nutrient dense snack.
- Be realistic when shopping: are you more likely to eat fruit if it’s pre-cut or pre-packaged?
- Use fruit as a topping for things like oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, and salad.
- Make salad or stir fry as a way to get in a ton of veggies in one meal.
- Make smoothies for on-the-go snacks.
- Add fruit to your dessert.
- Combine fruit or veggie with a dip/butter that you really enjoy (i.e. banana and pb, celery and ranch).
- Figure out quick ways to cook veggies (i.e. sweet potato in the microwave).
- Cut up your produce ahead of time to cut down on prep-time.
- Keep frozen fruits and veggies in the freezer.
- Consider keeping canned fruits and veggies on hand.
- Try some (no added sugar) fruit or vegetable juice.
- When out to eat, carefully look at the menu for entrees and sides high in fruits and vegetables.
*These tips and more can be found at choosemyplate.gov!
While it can seem daunting to increase your fruit and vegetable intake to 5 cups per day, once you put in a little extra effort, it’s really not too bad. You’ll notice yourself automatically start to do the things listed above and, maybe without even realizing, you’ll have met your goal!