We have heard that we need to eat a rainbow everyday but, unfortunately, it is estimated that 90% of us don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables each day.
That is a staggering number of us!
It also says a great deal about the health outlook of our families.
To help us all eat more fruits and vegetables, this month is dedicated to learning more about the importance of including enough produce in our diets and how we can choose to eat right!
When we don’t eat the rainbow or get enough fruits and vegetables, we are at a higher risk of missing out on key nutrients.
This is becoming a public health concern for children and adults.
Why is it so hard to eat the right amount of fruits and vegetables?
How much do we really need?
What counts for a serving?
Let’s find out together!
Barriers to Adequate Fruit and Vegetable Intake
No matter our age, it is vital to select enough sources of fruits and vegetables to eat daily.
Research shows us produce provides us all with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other nutritional compounds to keep our bodies healthy and strong.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends three goals for our diets, which includes eating more foods such as fruits and vegetables that provide us with nutrients. Their recommendations include choosing highly colored foods such as dark green, red, and orange varieties to maximize the nutrients we eat.
Research has shown that a good intake of fruits and vegetables can reduce the likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The fiber in produce can help us move our bowels regularly too to avoid constipation and manage gastrointestinal problems like diverticulosis.
Here are some obstacles that people perceive keep them from getting all the servings they need each day:
- Produce is too expensive! Many state that the cost of fresh varieties of fruits and vegetables doesn’t fit into their budget.
Solution: purchase produce in season and locally grown, buy frozen and canned versions which are cheaper. Ounce for ounce of food eaten, produce is cheaper than other items, such as dairy and protein. Unfortunately, the least expensive food per ounce is snack food with little nutritional value.
- Produce has chemicals added during growing including pesticides.
Solution: organic foods are grown with fewer pesticides; organic is not more nutritional than conventional produce and the amount of pesticide residue eaten is low compared to the risk of not consuming adequate nutrition by avoiding produce. Wash all produce before preparing. Buy local from a known grower who can tell you their growing practices. Read the label. Many manufacturers no longer use cans with BPA.
- Canned vegetables have too many additives like sodium or preservatives.
Solution: frozen vegetables are flash-frozen with few, if any, additional ingredients. Draining the canned vegetables will remove 36% of sodium. Canned vegetables add only 1% of the sodium content of our diets.
- Biotechnology fears are making people unsure about what to choose and if their produce is safe to eat.
Solution: learn more about how your food is grown. Know your grower. Get the facts!
- Fear that contaminants and bacteria that could lead to food borne illness.
Solution: bacteria on produce can be eliminated by thoroughly washing before cooking and adding heat during cooking.
How Much Do We Need?
One of the easiest ways to know that you are eating enough fruits and vegetables is by filling half your plate with them. This is how MyPlate has been structured.
The idea behind MyPlate is that there is no measuring required. Half the plate can be anything you prefer in the fruit and vegetable world.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that adults eat 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. I prepared two quick guides to help you determine how much to prepare for each member of the family, one guide for fruit servings and one for vegetable servings. Just click on the links to open the PDFs for saving and/or printing.
You can choose fruit for dessert, salad on the side and a hot vegetable on the plate. Doing this at all meals, being mindful of your selections, help to get the amount you need for the best nutrition but will also help your weight because these foods are usually the lowest calorie sources on the plate. The more of those you eat, the lower the total calorie amount will be.
What is a Serving?
Most of us don’t get half the number of servings of fruits and vegetables recommended.
It doesn’t matter which form you choose to use when counting fruits and vegetables. It can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or 100% juice in any combination throughout the day. All these varieties provide the nutrition we need.
Fruits – this varies with different varieties of fresh fruits and size of the fruit such as 16 grapes and ½ large apple. Canned fruit serving size is ½ cup. 100% juice serving is ½ cup or 4 ounces. Dried fruits 1/4 cup = ½ cup canned.
Vegetables – fresh vegetables 1 cup, frozen or canned vegetables is ½ cup per serving.
Juice drinks, punch or cocktails are not 100% juice and will have added sugar which can lead to excessive calorie intake and obesity.
Variety is the spice of life! Indeed, this includes the foods we choose to eat and what we serve our families. The more variety, the better the nutrition we will get!