Updated: Aug 16, 2019
Eating fruits and vegetables is the basis of a healthy diet. Now, I can almost hear the groaning, eye rolling, and exasperation. Yes, you know what is coming, “Eat your fruits and vegetables, at least 5 servings a day” This is the reason why no one ever wants to see their dietitian during the holidays, before vacation, or almost anytime. It’s like dietitians just want you to LIVE off lettuce, right? Who can live like that?
How come dietitians never recommend eating cheesecake, or hamburgers, or donuts or potato chips? I mean wouldn’t those recommendations be easier to follow? And more delicious? Sadly, I must tell you a great secret: it is because for every fruit or vegetable eaten, dietitians get a kickback from the farmers…wait that is totally false. Maybe it is because it is against their code of ethics to eat these foods, or maybe you can only be a dietitian if you only eat carrots and celery and lettuce…oh wait- that’s rabbits. Silly me. Ok ok…I’ve got it. The real reason they always recommend fruits and vegetables is because, um…no one is really eating them. Surveys of fruit and vegetable intake show that the average American eats 1 serving a fruit a day and less than 2 vegetables a day (1).
But why do dietitians and nutritionists (and your mom) care whether or not you eat fruits and vegetables? What is the big deal? Some of my patients have told me that they are going to die someday- so why not enjoy life while it lasts? Others have said that if it was bad for you, then why did God allow it to be invented (so meth is ok now? What?) Some patients have said they are allergic to fruits and vegetables…all of them. Sometimes patients tell me ignorance is bliss- so they don’t want to know why they should eat healthier- they want to continue on their merry way.
Ok, so I can kind of understand why people want to eat donuts rather than carrots…but just kind of. In the case of choosing what to eat, ignorance is NOT bliss. Research strongly supports increased intake of fruits and vegetables and decreased intake of added sugars to prevent chronic disease (2). Unfortunately, an estimated 6 out of 10 adults have at least 1 chronic disease. 4 out of 10 have 2 or more chronic diseases (3). Chronic disease is not pleasant for a number of reasons. Besides the fact that you don’t feel well or do many of the things you enjoy, chronic disease is expensive. Chronic disease and mental health take up 90% of the nation’s 3.3 TRILLION annual healthcare budget (4). Chronic disease means more doctor visits, medications, hospitalization, and because of all this people with chronic disease have to spend ALOT of time, money and energy managing their disease rather than enjoying life- like vacations, family or other hobbies. Who can live like that?
All that being said, chronic disease is not 100% preventable. However, there are things you can do to decrease your risk for chronic disease. According to the CDC there are 4 major lifestyle changes to make to decrease your risk of chronic disease (3):
1- Increase physical activity
2- Increase fruit and vegetable intake
3- Stop smoking
4- Decrease alcohol consumption
Preventing chronic disease isn’t the only reason to eat fruits and vegetables. The studies on benefits of fruit and vegetable intake are wide and varied:
- Your skin is healthier (you are more attractive) (5)
- Decreased inflammation (6)
- Decreased depression symptoms (7)
- Decreased fatigue and weight loss (8)
- Improved gut health and friendly bacteria- which we are finding has a whole host of other amazing benefits (9)
While eating fruits and vegetables doesn’t do the exact same thing for everyone, it seems likely that there are benefits for everyone. So why not give it a try- it’s like your very own fortune cookie.
So now you know the real reason why dietitians are always recommending that people eat more fruits and vegetables instead of all those other tempting foods: we care. We care about people and we know that we have the knowledge that can help people feel better and enjoy their lives more. So how many fruits and vegetables should you eat in a day? There isn’t any straightforward, absolute answer, and of course more research is needed…because you know that always has to be said. Research suggests that eating a combined 7-7.5 servings of fruits and vegetables/ day decreases the risk of cancer and eating 10 servings a day decreases the risk of heart disease (10). Research also suggests that eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is as important, or possibly more important than total number of servings. Whether this is because of the increased fiber that fuels the growth of friendly gut bacteria, or because eating more fruits and vegetables decreases the intake of less nutrient dense foods, or for a hundred other reasons we haven’t discovered yet, or a combination of them all…whatever- just eat more fruits and vegetables.
If this little article caught your attention and you want some ideas, check out this handy tip sheet.
1. Lee-Kwan S, Morre L, Blanck H, Harris D, Galuska D. Disparities in State-Specific Adult Fruit and Vegetable Consumption — United States, 2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. November 17, 2017. 66(45);1241–1247. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6645a1.htm?s_cid=mm6645a1_w#T1_down
2. Boeing H et al. Critical review: Vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases. Eur J Nutr. 2012;51(6):637-63. doi: 10.1007/s00394-012-0380-y.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Disease Overview. About Chronic Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm. Accessed 7/31/19
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm Accessed 7/31/19.
5. Whitehead R, Re D, Xiao D, Ozakinci G, Perrett D. You are what you eat: Within-subject increases in fruit and vegetable consumpton confer beneficial skin color changes. Plos One. March 7, 2012. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032988
6. Jiang Y et al. Cruicferous vegetable intake is inversely correlated with circulating levels of pro inflammatory markers in women. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(5):700-8.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.019
7. Mihrshanhi S, Dobson A, Mishra G. Fruit and vegetable consumption and prevalence and incidence of depressive symptoms in mid-age women: results from the Australian longitudinal study on women’s health. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2015;69(5):585-91. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2014.222.
8. Annesi J, Johnson P, Porter K. Bi-directional relationship between self-regulation and improved eating: temporal associations with exercise, reduced fatigue and weight loss. J Psychol. 2015;149(6):535-553. doi:10.1080/00223980.2014.913000.
9. Brown K, DeCoffe D, Molcan E, Gibson D. Diet-induced dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota and the effects on immunity and disease. Nutrients. 2012; 4:1095-1119; doi:10.3390/nu4081095.
10. Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P, Fadnes L, Keum N, Norat T, Greenwood D, Riboli E, Vatten L, Tonstad S. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Int J Epidemiol.2017; 46(3): 1029–1056. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw319
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to replace medical advice. Information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to replace professional or medical advice, diagnose or treat health problems.