An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it's not quite enough to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended number of servings of fruits and veggies per day. Produce doesn't just fill you up without providing a lot of calories; fruits and vegetables are also loaded with essential vitamins and minerals that are critical to maintaining good health.
Skimping on fruit and vegetables is becoming a worldwide issue, according to preliminary findings of a Tufts University study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. The study found that insufficient fruit and veggie consumption may be linked to millions of deaths from heart disease and strokes each year.
Indulge In More Fruit
Fruits contain fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals, and they get their sweetness from natural sugar. In fact, indulging in nature's candy each day can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent certain types of cancer, among other benefits, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
However, only one in 10 adults get the recommended servings of fruit each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Teens aren't meeting the mark either; only 9 percent of high school students get enough fruit daily, according to the CDC's 2018 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables. The damage? One in seven cardiovascular deaths can be linked to underconsumption of fruit, the Tufts University study found.
Adults should consume about 1 1/2 to two cups of various fruits each day, according to the CDC report. In other words, you should be eating about four servings of fruit per day (a serving is about the size of your fist), according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Read more: Top 10 Healthiest Fruits and Vegetables
Fill Your Plate With Plenty Of Vegetables
Vegetables are low in calories and fat, high in fiber and cholesterol-free. Veggies provide a variety of essential nutrients, including vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber and folate. In addition to their nutritional value, non-starchy vegetables like spinach, arugula and other leafy greens promote weight loss, according to Harvard Health.
Only one in 10 adults eats the prescribed amount of veggies each day, leaving many lacking critical nutrients, according to the CDC. And only 2 percent of high schoolers eat the necessary amount daily. Unfortunately, the Tufts University study found that one in 12 cardiovascular deaths can be attributed to insufficient veggie consumption. To put this into perspective, this amounts to roughly one million total deaths just from skimping out on veggies!
Adults should aim to consume about two to three cups of a variety of vegetables each day. That's about five servings per day (one serving is about a half to a full cup of veggies, depending on the type you're eating), according to the AHA.
Like fruit, vegetables are healthy if consumed fresh or frozen. A key source behind the nation's low veggie consumption is tied to the costliness of fresh vegetables, the CDC's 2018 report found. However, opting for local farmers' markets and shopping produce on sale can make vegetable consumption more affordable and accessible.
Tips for Getting Enough Fruit and Vegetable Servings
Start introducing more fruits and veggies by snacking smart. While grabbing a quick, packaged granola bar on the go is convenient, replacing processed snacks with fresh fruit or vegetables is a healthier option. At the beginning of the week, set aside time to wash large quantities of fruit and vegetables, dividing them into snack-sized portions or baggies for convenience, recommends the Mayo Clinic.
Make a conscious effort to incorporate more fresh fruit into your daily diet by substituting jam with fruit on your toast, adding fresh blueberries to plain Greek yogurt or blending frozen fruit into a smoothie. However, be wary of fruit juices or other fruit products (like applesauce), as many of them contain added sugars.
Experiment with new fruit and veggie combinations. Pair your veggies with healthy dips like hummus or guacamole to make them more enticing. Alternatively, try adding some strawberries or orange slices to your salad.
Another easy tip? Make vegetables the centerpiece of each dish you cook, recommends the Mayo Clinic. Fill your plate primarily with vegetables and add whole grains and meat as a side dish. While this may seem insufficient for a full meal, the fiber content in veggies will keep you satisfied and get you closer to the proper amount of nutrients.
- CDC: "Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Vegetables and Fruits"
- CDC: "2018 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables"
- American Heart Association: "Fruits and Vegetables Serving Sizes"
- Mayo Clinic: "5 Easy Ways To Eat More Fruits and Veggies"
- American Society For Nutrition: "Millions of Cardiovascular Deaths Attributed to Not Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables"