Fruits and Veggies: Why “More Matters” Now More Than Ever

As the prevalence of obesity continues to increase in the United States, it is not surprising that as a nation we have not met the Healthy People 2010 goals of fruit and vegetable consumption. But what is startling about the latest statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is just how many of us are NOT eating the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables daily. It is estimated that in 2009 only 32.5% of adults were eating 2 or more servings of fruit per day. This is a decrease in fruit consumption from 2000. Vegetable consumption has remained the same for the most part since 2000 with an estimated number of adults eating 3 or more servings per day at 26.3%. The Healthy People 2010 goal was for 75% of people 2 years and over to eat 2 or more fruit servings per day and 50% of people 2 years and over to eat 3 or more vegetable servings per day. So while are our waistlines are increasing, our fruit and vegetable consumption is either declining or staying the same.

What is happening to cause such a disparity between where we should be and where we are now? There are underlying reasons for this surprising finding, including access, availability and affordability. While farmers markets seem to be popping up in more places, not everyone has access to these markets while others may not know where to find them. The website is useful in finding not only farmers markets but local co-ops and community supported agriculture groups. Most of these options are not available year-round however. Even if you don’t have access to a local farmers market, there are still parts of this country that are food deserts, both urban and rural. Part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is the goal of wiping out food deserts within the next 7 years.

The availability of fresh fruits and vegetables is also an issue. But there are alternatives to fresh such as frozen and even canned fruits and vegetables. Dried fruit is another option too. Frozen fruits and vegetables are convenient to keep on hand when fresh isn’t available. Often frozen vegetables can be bought in a chopped form, saving time prep time in the kitchen. Just stay away from those with butter or full fat sauces. Canned fruits and vegetables can be a healthy choice if you know what to look for. Buy canned fruits packed in their own juices with no added sugar. For canned vegetables, look for those that say no added salt or low or reduced sodium. Canned vegetables can also be rinsed to help lower the amount of sodium.

Cost is also mentioned ]in terms of a barrier to eating more fruits and vegetables. Buying fruits and vegetables in season, not only tastes better but it is usually easier on the pocket book too. And frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are very affordable. Dried beans are some of the most inexpensive foods you can buy, especially when talking about nutrient bang for your buck.

So, how do you eat more fruits and vegetables:

  • Every time you eat a meal or a snack, make sure it includes at least 1 fruit and or vegetable.
  • For breakfast, top your cereal, oatmeal or yogurt with fruit like a banana, peach slices or berries
  • Fruit is the natural grab and go snack. You don’t get much more portable than an apple, banana or orange. Other snack ideas are to make your own trail mix with dried fruit, nuts and whole oat cereal.
  • Having a sandwich for lunch? Biggie size the lettuce and tomato. Maybe add some cucumber, onion or bell pepper as well for a little extra crunch and flavor. A small side salad or a vegetable soup is a perfect complement.
  • If dinner is your largest meal of the day, make half your plate vegetables – and it can be more than one. The other half should be equally divided between a lean protein and whole grain or starch.
  • With its natural sweetness, fruit is nature’s dessert. The fruit options are endless for a sweet treat at the end of your meal.

Another barrier to vegetable consumption is that often people don’t know how to prepare vegetables or they get stuck in a rut of eating the same ones prepared the same way all the time. This can quickly lead to boredom which leads to eating less. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Roasting and grilling are two of my favorite ways to prepare and eat vegetables. Just toss with a little olive oil and season with ground pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and any other herbs that strike your fancy. There are so many places on the internet these days to find recipes and ideas. Two of my favorite sites are Eating Well and Cooking Light. Another great resource is, a CDC website that includes recipes, tips, and shopping on a budget.

One last reminder about fruits and vegetables – think about color and go for as many different colors as you can in a day. Dress up your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables – your plate should be bursting with color not boring in monotone brown or white.

Make a food challenge with your family or friends: pick out a new recipe or vegetable dish to try this week. Please leave a comment with how you do!

**I taped a segment for CNN on this topic that will air on September 24 on Headline News, CNN and their affiliates. I’ll post a link as soon as it is available in case you miss it!