Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital March 6, 2014
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are good for you. But are you eating enough of them?
Fruits and vegetables contain a unique combination of nutrients and healthy compounds, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Diets rich in these plant-based foods are associated with a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and macular degeneration; increased energy and stamina; and a bevy of other health benefits. Five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is a good start, but recent research suggests that adding a few more servings would be worth your while.
What’s the Evidence?
Below is just a sampling of recent research that supports the recommendation of eating more fruits and vegetables.
- A large collaborative trial called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), conducted by institutions including Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Johns Hopkins University, found that consuming high amounts of fruits and vegetables had significantly greater effects on reducing blood pressure in individuals with borderline high blood pressure as compared to those eating a typical American diet (low in fruits and vegetables).
- Researchers from the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition have found that consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables each day is strongly correlated with a decrease in many forms of cancer.
- Preliminary data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition reports similar findings, stating that there is a strong inverse relationship between high fruit and vegetable consumption and cancer risk.
- Further support comes from the American Institute for Cancer Research. It states that if the only dietary change a person made was to eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, cancer rates would drop by as much as 20 percent.
What’s a Serving?
Eating eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day is easy. Serving sizes vary according to the source, but here are some general guidelines:
- 1 small to medium piece of fresh fruit – apples, oranges, nectarines
- 1/2 cup canned or fresh cut fruit – about the size of a computer mouse
- 4 ounces of fruit juice – a small Dixie cup
- 1/4 cup dried fruit – a small handful
- 1/2 cup cooked vegetables – the size of a computer mouse
- 1 cup raw vegetables – the size of a standard light bulb
- 4 ounces whole vegetable juice – a small Dixie cup
- 1/2 cup tomato soup or marinara sauce
Think of your plate in terms of fractions, with one-half covered by vegetables or fruits.
Simple Ways to Add More Daily Servings
The key to achieving the benefits of these health-promoting, disease-busting foods is to eat many of them and eat them often.
- Start out each morning by adding berries to a bowl of cereal or yogurt.
- Toss berries into salads.
- Order a lunch sandwich with extra greens.
- Re-train yourself to create a meal around fruits and vegetables rather than around a large,
- Blend fresh, frozen, or canned fruit with low-fat milk or yogurt and ice in a blender for smoothies.
- Challenge yourself to taste something new each week. Try exotics like jicama or Asian pears, or visit local ethnic markets for even more variety.
- Savor the skins! Edible skins, seeds, and peels often contain a completely different offering of
nutrients than the flesh.
- Add extra vegetables to marinara sauce, soup, or stews.
- Try substituting sliced eggplant or portabella mushrooms for meat in lasagna.
Are Five Servings Enough?
Five servings a day is a good start, but more is better. Aim for eight or more servings a day if you’re interested in a longer and healthier life.Visit our Health-e-Weight site for more tips and interactive tools to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.