Filling the Veggie Void

It’s the holiday season, and if you’re like many Americans, you’ve been eating your fair share of cookies, candy, and comfort foods that often include hearty portions of meat and cheese. You may have decided that when the new year begins, you’ll switch back to a healthier diet, or even adopt a healthier diet than you’ve ever followed before. And — as a recent report makes clear — if you’re like most Americans, you’ll fail miserably at including enough vegetables in your diet.

The report was issued by the National Fruit & Vegetables Alliance, a public–private partnership that aims to make fruits and vegetables half of all foods that Americans eat. That goal is a long way away: As an SFGate article on the report notes, only 4% of Americans are currently consuming the amount of vegetables (excluding fried potatoes) recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The article notes that the popularity of convenient, compact food options — like pizza and sandwiches — has made vegetable side dishes less common than ever before.

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The National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance report outlines several trends in fruit and vegetable consumption, and other trends that may help explain them. In 2014, total fruit and vegetable consumption in the United States reached a new 10-year low, with vegetable consumption down from 1.09 cups per person per day, on average, in 2004 to 1.02 cups in 2014. Children are only slightly better than adults when it comes to vegetable consumption, with 5% achieving recommended levels, and men do slightly better than women, with 4% versus 3% consuming enough. Most Americans get between 30% and 69% of their recommended vegetable intake, with far smaller numbers consuming either more or less than this range.

When it comes to fruit, the story is a bit different. While 8% of all Americans achieve their recommended fruit intake, children do noticeably better at 12%. Women average 8%, while only 5% of men eat enough fruit. But unlike when it comes to vegetables, the largest share of Americans eat far less fruit than they should — more than half of all Americans eat less than 40% of their recommended fruit intake, and less than 5% of Americans eat between 90% and 99% of recommended levels. Unless you’re one of the few Americans who makes a conscious effort to eat enough fruit, chances are you’re eating far less than you should.

So why are both fruit and vegetable consumption down? One reason is that drinking fruit juice at breakfast has become less popular — in 2004, the average American drank 100% fruit juice for breakfast 87 times throughout the year, while in 2014 that number had dropped to 64 times. Lower vegetable consumption can largely be explained by the demise of the side dish. In 1985, 68% of at-home meals included at least one side dish. This number dropped steadily until about 2000, and since then the number has risen and fallen slightly, with 56% of at-home meals including a side dish in 2013. Over the same period, the average number of side dishes served — when a side dish is present — has dropped steadily from 1.79 side dishes in 1985 to 1.59 in 2014.

What do you think of these dismal fruit and vegetable trends — are they an unavoidable outcome in a country where people are working longer hours, and have less time for food preparation? What do you think is the biggest barrier to people eating enough of these foods? What, if anything, can or should be done to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables? Do you think you eat enough fruits and vegetables, and if not, why not? Leave a comment below!

And if you’re looking to increase your consumption of vegetables and fruits, check out DiabetesSelfManagement.com’s recipes for sides and salads.

  • catlady60

    Here’s another reason we don’t eat enough fruits and veggies: they’re too damned expensive. Grocers have jacked up the prices to the point where poor people cannot afford them.

    • linda

      My son gave me this argument. I ran into him at the store one day. His cart contained several snacks, soda, and processed foods. I told him to put back some of the snacks and processed foods and buy some frozen veggies. Same cost, more nutrition. He had always thought of adding veggies as buying something extra, not replacing. He has also found that the kids do not require as many snacks if they eat good nutrition at meals.