For the past two weeks, I’ve written about super fruits—exotic, unfamiliar fruits that contain higher levels of antioxidants than your “run of the mill,” everyday fruits, such as apples and oranges. However, many claims about the health benefits of super fruits have yet to be proven. And we shouldn’t overlook the garden-variety (literally) fruits and vegetables that brighten up the produce aisles in our local grocery stores.
You may remember the campaign to get Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables that started years ago called the “5 A Day for Better Health” program. This program began in 1991 and was formed by a collaboration between the National Cancer Institute and the Produce for Better Health Foundation. While this campaign hasn’t exactly gone away, the government is now trying another tactic, called “Fruits & Veggies—More Matters.” And, with September being Fruits & Veggies—More Matters Month, what better time to familiarize yourself with this campaign?
The More Matters program stems from the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in 2005. If you think it was tough trying to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, brace yourself for this: we need to aim for between 4 and 13 servings, or 2–6 ½ cups, of produce every day! Of course, the amount that you need depends on your age, sex, and physical activity level. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories per day to reach or maintain a healthy weight, your goal is to eat at least 4 ½ cups of produce every day. Still sounds like an awful lot, doesn’t it?
Why the big push to eat more fruit and vegetables? Are apple orchard owners or vegetable farmers the driving force behind this? Well, they certainly have a vested interest, but the real reason is what we’ve learned over many years (at least 30) of population research. Nutrition scientists are pretty confident when they report that eating produce can help prevent heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diverticulosis, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer disease. Pretty impressive, especially since Americans seem to be plagued with most of these diseases or conditions.
My patients would often ask me if it’s better to eat vegetables than fruit. Or they’d tell me that they really disliked vegetables, so was it OK to just eat fruit? As with many things, the ideal is to eat a variety of both. Vegetables are lower in calories and carbohydrate, so for the weight-watching set, aiming for more servings from vegetables makes sense. Also, some new evidence shows that eating more vegetables, rather than fruits, may slow down the rate of cognitive decline. On the other hand, fruit has an awful lot to offer in terms of nutrition, and the naturally sweet flavor is more appealing to some people.