Posted on April 22, 2015 at 13:04 PM
In a perfect world, the healthy tenets of a healthy lifestyle would translate into not only awareness but behavior change.
Oh, that behavior change. I mean, we, as a nation, know what’s good for us — eat more fruits and vegetables.
Awareness of that recommendation has increased a lot since George H. W. Bush was president. Back then, about 8 percent of U.S. adults said they knew that eating five servings a day of fruit and vegetables led to improved health, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Thirteen years later, that number jumped to a whopping 40 percent.
But what we know to be good for us has yet to translate into behavior change. Trends tracked by the CDC show that American adults eat about the same amount of fruit as they did in 1988, and their intake of vegetables has decreased slightly during this period.
That means that fewer than 1 and 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. When they do, fruit juice, namely orange juice, is the fruit du jour.
Those figures surprise me a bit because there are more grocery and specialty stores selling fresh produce. There are also more farmers’ markets, and the press and possibly your doctor have not been silent on raising awareness of this important dietary addition to overall health.
Lately, there’s been a spat of sound diets hailed by health experts that expose eating more veggies and fruits. They include the Mediterranean diet, the Ornish diet and now what is a regional interpretation of the Mediterranean diet — the Nordic diet. [Think rapeseed (canola oil) instead of olive oil but overall basically a plant-based diet like the others.]
All of these diets share the common theme of eating more fruits and vegetables.
These themes are also part of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the proposed 2015 guidelines. You will also find them in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate food guidance system as well as the Harvard Healthy Eating plate.
Both plates recommend dividing your plate in half, filling one half with fruits and vegetables. The more veggies — and the greater the variety — the better. Same thing for fruits.
Although the CDC says potatoes and French fries don’t count, they apparently still do in the American diet. According to the CDC, we eat more potatoes than any other vegetable. Potato consumption is especially high among teenagers, and fried potato intake has nearly doubled, from .72 cups per day to 1.21 cups per day, the CDC reports.
If you’re read this far, please indulge me as I share a few more core fruit facts. Frozen fruit is a great alternative to fresh fruit, especially when certain fruits are out of season. As long as there’s no added sugar, you can be assured that frozen retains as much, or even more, nutrients and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) than fresh fruit that has languished on supermarket shelves.
Although higher in calories, dried fruit eaten in small quantities is loaded with concentrated sources of fiber and minerals (potassium, copper, phosphorus, magnesium and iron) that are good for your health.
Of course, fresh fruit reigns supreme for a variety of reasons. At 40 to 90 calories per serving, its high water and fiber content make it a wiser choice than fruit juice — more filling and less calories overall. Avocados are an exception because of their high fat content. One cup, cubed, will set you back 240 calories.
Fruit juices, on the other hand, are often loaded with juice fillers, such as cheap apple and grape juices. If you’re a juice drinker, check the ingredients to make sure it’s 100 percent juice.
Fruits also have other health benefits. Nutrition studies show that fruit eaters have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure, strokes and diabetes. The case for preventing cancer, however, is less clear. Particularly beneficial fruits to lower your risk of high blood pressure include citrus, followed by apples, grapes and watermelon. Pears and apples appear to be more protective against strokes, and blueberries, grapes and apples are favored for reducing the risk of diabetes.
As for vegetables, they have different chemical compounds and important health benefits. The nutrients in vegetables, for example, can help alleviate stress and inflammation. Vitamin K, found in dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale and Swiss chard, is not only good for bones but helps balance coristol, a stress hormone.
While kale seems to be an ongoing kraze, consider some other up and coming vegetable trendsetters. They include purslane, or portulaca oleracea, which has succulent leaves and a high level of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fat. The weed stinging nettle (urtica dioica) is making a comeback, thanks to the “foraging movement.” It supplies a range of nutrients, from vitamins C and K to iron and potassium.
There’s also a new exotic spin on spinach, primarily found in Asian markets. So, they’re not new; just maybe new to you. Look for Malabar spinach, Perilla and Kangkon.
How much produce is enough? The CDC takes the guesswork out of what your daily numbers should be at fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov. Plug in your age, gender and activity level to come up with a personalized answer.