How many fruits and vegetables do we really need?

How many servings of fruits and vegetables should we eat each day?

We often talk about how diets rich in fruits and vegetables are good for your health. But how much do you need to average per day to reap real rewards? An analysis from a recent study in the journal Circulation indicates that a total of five servings per day of fruits and vegetables offers the strongest health benefits.

Compared with people who said they ate just two servings of fruits or vegetables each day, people who ate five servings per day had

  • 13% lower risk of death from any cause
  • 12% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke
  • 10% lower risk of death from cancer
  • 35% lower risk of death from respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The most effective combination of fruits and vegetables among study participants was two servings of fruits plus three servings of vegetables per day, for a total of five servings daily.

The biggest health benefits came from eating leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach) and fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and beta carotene (citrus, berries, carrots). These are primary sources of antioxidants that may play a role in preventing cancer. Interestingly, eating more than five servings of fruits or vegetables per day didn’t seem to provide additional benefit in lowering the risk of death. Neither did eating starchy vegetables like peas, corn, or potatoes, or drinking fruit juices.

Also, understand that we’re talking about how much you eat on average. If during any particular day you have no fruit and vegetables, that’s fine: you won’t keel over. You can add a little more than usual on other days to raise your average for the week.

The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and veggies in order to make it to the recommended five servings per day. Here are some ides:

Breakfast

  • Eat melon, grapefruit or other fruit.
  • Add bananas, raisins or berries to your cereal.
  • Drink a small (6-ounce) glass of juice. Be sure it’s 100% fruit or vegetable juice without excess sodium or sugar – not “fruit drink,” “cocktail” or “punch.”
  • Add chopped up vegetables to your eggs or potatoes. Try onions, celery, green or red bell peppers, or spinach.

Lunch

  • Have a fruit or vegetable salad with lunch.
  • Put vegetables on your sandwich, such as cucumber, sprouts, tomato, lettuce or avocado.
  • Eat a bowl of vegetable soup. (Compare food labels and choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium you can find in your store, or make soup from scratch.)
  • Have a piece of fruit or raw veggie sticks instead of chips.

Snacks

  • Keep raw veggie sticks handy, such as green or red bell peppers, green beans, celery or carrots.
  • Carry dried fruit, such as raisins, dates or dried apricots, in your purse or pocket.
  • Have any type of fresh fruit: grapes, apple, banana, orange, kiwi, etc.
  • On hot days, munch on a bowl of frozen fruits or vegetables, such as grapes, peas or bananas.

Dinner

  • Have a fruit or vegetable salad with dinner.
  • Add a side of steamed or microwaved vegetables – frozen veggies are fine!
  • When you use the oven to cook your meal, put in a whole potato, sweet potato or yam at the same time.
  • Add chopped vegetables like onions, garlic and celery when cooking soup, stew, beans, rice, spaghetti sauce and other sauces.
  • When making rice, add some frozen peas for the last three minutes of cooking.

It’s true that fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than many other foods, but they do contain some calories. If you start eating fruits and vegetables in addition to what you usually eat, you are adding calories and may gain weight. The key is substitution. Eat fruits and vegetables instead of some other higher-calorie food.

Source: Journal of Circulation

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