There’s good news and bad news on the fruits and veggie front. The good news is that there definitely seems to be increased awareness of the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables. How do I know this? More and more commercials and ads are stressing the fact that their food contains a full serving of fruits and/or vegetables. Of course these products are such things as canned meat sauce, sugary cereals and enriched beverages. Not the best choices but the emphasis confirms that as a society we do know the importance of these foods and marketing companies are playing to it.
I thought I would shed some facts on how to best get one’s daily recommendation of fruits and vegetables, why it’s important and some simple ways to accomplish it. (Sorry but I won’t be recommending any of the products you see on TV or in magazine ads.)
Whether you’re gluten intolerant or not, I think this particular post has universal benefit for most Americans. Simply said, we fail miserably in eating our vegetables!
A comment about drinking one’s fruits and veggies vs. eating them: Unless you have a juicer that retains all the fiber and pulp, drinking fruits and vegetables loses much of the benefit found within these vital foods. I recommend drinking purified water, green or white tea but eating your fruits and vegetables.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that a serving size for fruit or vegetables is equal to about half a cup. Greens like spinach and lettuce have a serving size of one cup. One serving of sliced fruit is equal to one-half cup; however a single piece of fruit, such as an apple or an orange counts as one serving. How did the USDA decide half a cup being a serving size? It was based on the portion sizes that people typically eat and the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables.
Health experts suggest that depending on our age and activity level we should eat a total of 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Children, teenage girls, most men and active women should eat at least 4 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of fruit every day – that is 7 total servings. Teen boys and active men should eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 4 servings of fruit – that is 9 total servings. Unfortunately many people fail to eat even a small fraction of that recommendation.
Fruits and vegetables contain important vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber. They are usually low in calories as well. Generally speaking, those with the most color -- green, red, yellow, and orange -- have the highest nutrient content. Organic produce is by far the best choice in that they contain the highest quantities of these beneficial nutrients.
The unique substances found only in fruits and vegetables can help provide detoxification, immune support and prevention of many diseases. They are naturally anti-inflammatory which is important in helping to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Eating at least 7 to 9 servings of vegetables and fruits each day may be less daunting when you see how small one serving is:
- 1/2 cup of sliced fruit
- 1 medium piece of fruit – about the size of a tennis ball
- 1 cup of leafy vegetables – this would be 4 large leaves of lettuce or the size of a baseball.
- 1/2 cup of cooked or raw vegetables
VEGETABLE SERVINGS: SIZES
- Asparagus, fresh - 5 spears
- Avocado Half
- Broad beans - 3 heaping tbsp (1/2 cup)
- Broccoli - 2 large florets
- Brussels sprouts - 8
- Cabbage - 3 heaping tbsp shredded, (1/2 cup)
- Carrots - 1 large
- Celery - 3 sticks
- Cherry tomatoes - 7
- Chickpeas - See Pulses
- Curly kale - 4 tbsp (1/2 cup)
- Eggplant - One-third of a large one
- French beans - 4 heaping tbsp (1/2 cup)
- Kidney beans - See Pulses
- Lentils - See pulses
- Mixed salad - Cereal bowl full (1 cup)
- Mushrooms, button - 14
- Onion - 1 medium
- Parsnip - 1 large
- Peas, fresh - 3 heaping tbsp (1/2 cup)
- Potatoes - Never count towards your daily vegetable servings, in any form
- Pulses, cooked: kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils etc - 3 heaping tbsp (1/2 cup)
- Salad leaves, lettuce etc - Cereal bowl full (1 cup)
- Scallions - 8
- Snowpeas - Handful
- Spinach, cooked - 2 heaping tbsp (1/2 cup)
- Spring onions - 8
- Sugarsnap peas - Handful
- Tomato - 1 medium
- Vegetable soup - 1 serving of fresh or canned soup
- Vegetable sticks - Handful of mixed - celery, pepper, carrot etc
- Zucchini - Half a large one
FRUIT SERVINGS: SIZES
- Apple, fresh 1 medium
- Banana 1 medium
- Blackberries Handful
- Clementines 2
- Cherries, fresh 14
- Figs, fresh 2
- Fruit salad, fresh 3 heaped tbsp, (1/2 cup)
- Kiwi 2
- Grapefruit Half
- Grapes Handful
- Mango 2 slices
- Melon 1 large slice
- Peach, fresh 1 medium
- Pear 1 medium
- Pineapple, canned 2 rings
- Pineapple, fresh 1 large slice
- Plums 2 medium
- Nectarine 1 medium
- Raspberries 2 handfuls
- Strawberries 7
Healthy Tips for Getting Your Daily Serving of Fruits & Vegetables
1: Enjoy fruit for dessert. In season, fruit can taste like “candy”. Eating seasonally not only provides variety, but you can get organic varieties that provide higher nutritional value. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, citrus and pomegranate are all excellent choices.
2: When cooking a main dish add some extra grated or chopped vegetables. Those that will add nutrients and vitamins include organic carrots, zucchinis, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms and onions.
3: When the afternoon munchies hit, reach for a quick but healthy snack. Opt for a small bowl of cherries, berries or apple and a handful of nuts or some nut butter. Or try some of your favorite sliced vegetables with a healthy olive oil and vinegar dressing. A hardboiled egg is another possible addition for additional protein.
4: Eat a few servings of green vegetable every day. An organic dark and leafy green vegetable is recommended. Choose from dark green lettuce, chard, kale, spinach, asparagus, broccoli and cabbage to begin. If you haven’t tried them since you were a kid– give them one more shot. If you sauté or steam them lightly such that they are still bright green and a little firm and top with some organic butter and seasonings, you may be presently surprised. Adding onions, garlic and mushrooms can create a nice flavorful medley.
5: When eating out ask for an extra serving of vegetables. When they arrive eat them first. If there isn’t a vegetable served with the meal, ask for a salad.
6: Keep a bowl of fresh fruits and veggies on the kitchen counter.
7: If time is a consideration, try the prewashed, precut organic vegetables at the grocery store.
I hope you find this helpful. I truly can’t think of a better health recommendation than dramatically increasing your consumption of these vitally nutritious foods.
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”