Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables? If you are like most Americans, the answer is likely "no". Recent data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that only one in ten American adults eats enough fruits and vegetables. (1) That means 90% of us don't get enough fruits and vegetables every day. Our children are also deficient. And the BIPOC communities are far worse off. (2)
What is the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily? The USDA recommended amount is 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables in half a cup per day. But that's the bare minimum for survival, not for thriving. According to research in Dr. If you are striving for optimal health rather than essentials, research in Dr. Mark Hyman's book Food Fix (which I highly recommend!) Eat 13 to 15 servings of fruit in half a cup and vegetables – in a variety of colors – every day. And athletes need to eat more. Impressive! That is a lot. Especially when, ironically, only 2% of all agricultural land in the US is used for growing fruit and vegetables.
Even as a functional medicine health coach who eats fairly clean and healthy, I know that I generally don't eat 13 to 15 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. What about you? It's hard to worry about how much that really is. Let's break it down in different ways.
A visual guide to your fruits and vegetables
You want to eat around 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit a day, the rest are vegetables. So what do 13-15 servings of fruits and vegetables look like with half a cup? Here are three ways to visualize this.
- Ideally, 50% of your plate at each meal would be vegetables and fruits. Yes, you need vegetables for breakfast too.
- A baseball is about the size of a mug. So if you're measuring in baseball-sized servings, you need to eat 6-8 baseballs with fruits and vegetables every day.
- Another point of view is a tennis ball that is about the size of half a cup. This means you need to eat 13 to 15 tennis balls worth of product every day.
Why do we need so many fruits and vegetables?
So why do we need so many servings of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors? There are several reasons. You may think your ancestors probably didn't eat that much, and you would be right. So what's up?
- Bad farming practices have resulted in nutrient-poor soils, so our products today lack many of the nutrients they used to contain. Today's broccoli contains 50-80% fewer nutrients than it did in 1970. (3) (4) I'm thrilled! This is in my life. Sip …
- Since Americans like to make everything “super-size”, the hybridization of products over the past 50 years has also opted for larger sizes over better nutrition. (5)
- Most conventionally grown produce are picked before full maturity (when the diet is fully developed) so you probably won't get all of the benefits of mature products if you don't grow them yourself.
- Conventionally grown produce is typically transported thousands of miles and the produce begins to deteriorate from harvest to landing on your plate.
- 30% of Americans eat at least one fast food meal a day, so processed foods have pushed the fruits and vegetables right off our plates.
- We are exposed to more toxins today than ever before, so we need more phytonutrients to combat the effects of these toxins.
Meaning of phytonutrients
What are phytonutrients? These are natural plant compounds that contain antioxidants like polyphenols, carotenoids, and resveratrol, to name a few. These phytonutrients are very useful in keeping plants healthy. And if we eat enough of them, they also help us stay healthy.
You've probably heard of oxidation, a type of corrosion caused by oxygen. On cars or other metals, this will turn into rust or oxidized paint (no shine). In our body, oxidative stress causes free radicals or some kind of corrosion in our cells. Processed foods, rancid fats and oils, and physical / mental / emotional stress all lead to oxidation and free radicals in our cells. No bueno.
According to scientific research, “Free radical damage contributes to many chronic health problems, including cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, cataracts, and cancer. Antioxidants prevent tissue damage caused by free radicals by preventing the formation of radicals, scavenging them or promoting their breakdown. "(6)
However, most of us do not eat enough variety from the vast rainbow of colors of the products available to us today. Therefore, we are not getting enough phytonutrients. (7) The color of the product generally indicates the amount of phytonutrients. The deeper and more colorful the product, the more phytonutrients it contains. And with the influx of toxins, we are exposed every day (from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the toxins in household cleaners and health and beauty products, and from pesticides in our fruits and vegetables and processed foods full of synthetic ingredients) , we need more phytonutrients to stay healthy.
Vitamins & Minerals vs. Phytonutrients
While vitamins and minerals are very important to a healthy body, phytonutrients can be just as important or more important. New research is constantly being conducted into the benefits of phytonutrients. (8) And it is very likely that one day more vitamins will be discovered among phytonutrients.
- 70% of Americans try to fill in the blanks with a multivitamin
- A multivitamin contains a few isolated nutrients, while an apple contains roughly 10,000 phytonutrients that work synergistically. And a serving of broccoli has even more!
- According to research by the University of Allahabad in India, "Polyphenol-rich diets offer significant protection against the development and progression of many chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and aging." (9)
So how can you get more fruits and vegetables in each day?
- Here are some ideas to help you add more veggies to your breakfast. You can also try adding vegetables to your smoothies.
- For lunch, try large salads with a wide variety of vegetables, sprouts, and greens, plus fish, chicken, or organic tofu for protein.
- Think of your protein as a "side dish" (4 to 6 ounces) for dinner with an array of brightly colored vegetables such as steamed broccoli, beets, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower.
- Check out my Recipes page for ideas on how to eat more fruits and vegetables every day.
Another way to eat more fruits and vegetables
Here's another way we personally bring more products into our lives every day. We have been taking JuicePlus + whole fruit and vegetable supplements for about seven years. They are supported by more than 40 clinical research studies (10). While these dietary supplements are definitely not intended as meal replacements, they help bridge the gap between what we "should" and what we eat when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
If you would like to learn more about the benefits of JuicePlus + supplements, I would love to speak to you. Please contact me. If you're a parent, grandparent, or even an aunt or uncle, get free JuicePlus + supplements for your children, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews. JuicePlus + helps ensure that all children have the opportunity to receive the optimal amount of fruit and vegetables every day. Even students!
Please share this article with your friends and family who are also interested in a healthier life. And leave a comment to tell us about your biggest takeaway.
Top photo credit (picture from farmers market): Shelly Pauls, Unsplash.com