If your mind skips over the popular slogans "five a day" and "eat the rainbow," you may not be getting enough fruits and vegetables.
In fact, only one in 10 adults in the United States eats enough produce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Not to be a downer, but that could be seriously harming your health in more ways than one. Here's what really happens to your body when you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables.
Are You Getting Enough Fruits and Veggies?
Your Weight Might Go Up
Let's just get this one out of the way: Not eating enough fruits and vegetables could be the reason why you can't lose weight or the reason you've seen your weight creeping up over the years.
There are a few reasons behind this. When you eat more fruits and vegetables, there's less room in your diet for other foods that may be unhealthy (think: the potato chips alongside your lunch or those late-night brownie bites).
Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber and water and low in calories, which means they keep you full without providing excess calories.
Getting the recommended amount (or more) of fruit and vegetables each day is associated with a decreased risk of becoming overweight — and increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet is linked with weight loss, according to November 2018 research in Nutrients.
Your Gut May Be Out of Whack
A healthy gut is the key if you're trying to improve your health.
Gut diversity, or an increased number and type of bacteria in your gut, is essential to keeping your immune system healthy. Fiber seems to be the number one indicator affecting gut diversity, according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
Fiber, which is a carb found in plant foods (aka fruits and vegetables), helps promote the growth of good gut bacteria.
So, what does not eating enough produce mean for your gut? Without these plant foods in your diet, you may not have the healthiest gut, which might make you more susceptible to illness, per the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
In addition, people who ate fewer than 10 plant foods per week had less gut diversity than those who ate 30 or more, per a May 2018 study in American Gut: an Open Platform for Microbiome Research.
Development of type 2 diabetes happens over time.
It's caused by a myriad of issues within the body, but a recent July 2020 study published in the BMJ observed that those with the highest levels of vitamin C in the body have the lowest risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
While this doesn't imply cause and effect, the association is clear enough for us to go ahead and reach for an orange.
Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C — it's pretty hard to find a single one without some C — so produce is a safe bet if you're looking to get more of this vital nutrient.
Eating more fruits and vegetables helps keep your weight down, which helps prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, too. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar, per the BMJ study.
Also, eating foods high in vitamin C, like fruits and vegetables keeps you from eating other foods high in added sugars, which isn't good for your blood sugar.
So, while research is using vitamin C as a marker, it is the type of foods that give you vitamin C that are tied to reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, not the vitamin itself. This means popping a vitamin C supplement might not do the trick — the power is in the food itself.
Your Heart Health May Suffer
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States across most racial and ethnic groups, according to the CDC.
There are many risk factors for heart disease that you can't change, such as age and genetics. Then there are some that can be modified — including your diet.
Research shows that a diet high in plant foods, such as fruits and vegetables, is associated with a reduced risk for heart disease, according to a December 2018 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Fruits and veggies contain special nutrients called phytochemicals, which help reduce inflammation in the body overall.
On the flip side, a diet high in sodium, processed foods and added sugars increases inflammation in the body. Fruits and vegetables help counter that chronic inflammation and are therefore linked to helping prevent cardiovascular disease, per the December 2018 study.
What's more, plant-based diets with limited animal-based foods were associated with lower overall blood pressure, per a July 2020 study in the Journal of Hypertension. And high blood pressure can contribute to heart disease.
It May Wreak Havoc on Your Skin
Improving your skin tone may be as easy as adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet every day.
The effect of chomping down on fruit and vegetables regularly on skin health brings everything previously mentioned full circle. It's not only the environment that affects the health of your skin, but also what you put in your body.
So you're literally nourishing your skin from the inside out.
A December 2018 study in Nutrients observed a 47-percent increase in risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis — red, scaly patches on the skin — in women following a Western diet, which is typically low in fruits and vegetables.
Increasing the amount of fruit people ate was associated with a 25-percent decreased risk.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that's important for the formation of collagen in the skin. And getting enough vitamin C in the body may help protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage, according to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute.
Getting enough C is especially important as you get older, since aging causes a natural decline of the vitamin in your skin.
In addition, vitamin A and water are also actively involved in keeping the skin youthful, according to a March 2020 review in Nutrients. There are many fruits and vegetables that contain both vitamins: bell peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, oranges and kale.
Now, Here's How to Get More Fruits and Vegetables
If most people aren't getting enough fruits and vegetables, what does that mean for you?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that you should take in a minimum of 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day. Fresh, frozen, dried, and canned all count for your fruit and vegetable servings.
If you're choosing dried fruit, keep your serving sizes to 1/4 cup. And if canned is what you like, choose low- or no-sodium for vegetables and look for fruit packed in juice, not heavy syrup.
It can also be very helpful to get some guidance on your diet. Seek out a registered dietitian in your area who can take a look at what you are eating and see where you need to make some changes based on your current health status.
Here are a few more easy ways to get more fruit and vegetables in your diet:
- Eat fruits and vegetables with healthy dips, such as nut butters, yogurt dips, guacamole or hummus.
- Eat vegetarian dinners at least twice a week.
- Add extra spinach or canned tomatoes to soups.
- Get your day started with a fruit-and-greens smoothie (add protein powder for better satiety).
- Experiment with these six fruit and veggie seasonings to spice up your produce.
- CDC: "Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables"
- Nutrients: "The Relationship between Vegetable Intake and Weight Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Cohort Studies"
- Harvard: "The Microbiome"
- BMJ: "Association of Plasma Biomarkers of Fruit and Vegetable Intake With Incident Type 2 Diabetes: EPIC-InterAct Case-Cohort Study in Eight European Countries"
- CDC: "Heart Disease Facts"
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: "Nutrition and Cardiovascular Health"
- Nutrients: "Whole Fruits and Fruit Fiber Emerging Health Effects"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Vitamin C and Skin Health"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: 20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits and Vegetables
- Nutrients: "Diet and Skin Aging—From the Perspective of Food Nutrition"
- American Gut: "An Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research"
- Journal of Hypertension: "The effect of plant-based dietary patterns on blood pressure"