The New Year provides Americans with a time to make resolutions about maintaining a healthy weight and consuming more nutritious foods. It’s all the more important to do in 2018 because a recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that most Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults should consume more fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet; specifically 2 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit every day. Scientific evidence demonstrates that a healthy diet helps to reduce the risk of obesity and chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. However, according to the CDC in 2015, only 12.2% of adults consumed the recommended amount of fruits and 9.3% of adults consumed the recommended amounts of vegetables. The CDC report found that American’s average fruit intake was once a day and 1.7 times per day for vegetables, highlighting the need for people in the United States to increase their dietary intake of these foods..
The CDC report also revealed consumption of fruits and vegetables varied across states and the District of Columbia. Even residents of states with the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables, Washington D.C. and Alaska respectively, still fell short of meeting the recommendations of the 2015- 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 15.5% of adults living in Washington D.C. met the fruit requirement as compared to 7.3% of people in West Virginia. Approximately 5.8% of West Virginians compared to 12% of Alaskans consumed the recommended amount of vegetables. Overall, the CDC study found women eat more fruits and vegetables as compared to men, 15.1% and 9.2% respectively; and a higher proportion of women in most states as compared to men achieved the dietary guideline recommendations for consumption of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the study reports that young adults, aged 18-30, consumed fewer fruits (9.2%) and vegetables (6.7%) as compared to other age groups.
Boosting Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables May Increase Longevity
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health compared the healthfulness and costs of various foods across the country. In terms of nutritional value, the study found people should consume more nuts, soy, beans and whole grains and eat less dairy and meat. The study concluded that “the purchase of plant-based foods may offer the best investment for dietary health.” Another study examined the relationship between greater food expenditures on fruits, vegetables and animal-derived foods. This research concluded that people, 65 years and older, who spent fifty cents more per day on vegetables and fruits experienced a 10% decrease in mortality; thus a diet filled with more fruits and vegetables may increase the longevity of older adults.
A Recipe for Increasing Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables
1. Know your needs. The more fruits and vegetables that are consumed, the better. The recommendation is to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. A report from Fruits & Veggies More Matters, a non-for-profit organization that partners with the CDC, found that there are sex differences in fruit and vegetables requirements and that the recommended amount of these foods varies with people’s activity levels.
2. Purchase in season vegetables and fruits. Buying in season fruits and vegetables helps save money and promotes the consumption of nutritious foods. Some examples of winter seasonal produce include bananas, grapefruit, lemons, mushrooms, oranges, onions, leeks, sweet potatoes and yams.
3. Try something new. Experiment. Stir in mango, pineapple, papaya, guava, kiwi and other interesting fruits into your morning breakfast.
4. Cook dishes in bulk. If you are making a stew, vegetable chili or soup, double the batch and freeze the remaining serving sizes of the dish. If you are in a pinch and should need a quick meal, reheat the frozen portion, helping to avoid consumption of fast-foods.
5. Add vegetables to recipes. Add zucchini, squash or grated carrots to a recipe for stew, chili, soup, or a pasta sauce.
6. Keep frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer so they are always available. Mixing a smoothie with frozen fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, blueberries, spinach, and bananas helps increase consumption of daily fruits and vegetables when you don’t have time to stop at a grocery store or farmer’s market. Research has examined the minerals, total phenolics and fiber content between fresh as compared to frozen fruits and vegetables such as peas, green beans, carrots, corn, broccoli, spinach, strawberries, and blueberries. This particular study found that the retention of nutrients was highly dependent on the food type, but for the majority of commodities examined, there was no significant difference in these ingredients between frozen products as compared to fresh fruit and vegetables. Similarly, another research study compared the vitamin content between eight fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. The research concluded overall there was no consistent difference in vitamin levels between frozen and fresh products.
7. Drink a smoothie. Consuming a smoothie for breakfast, as a snack or dessert is a great way to add more vitamins, minerals and fiber from fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Studies reveal that Americans are not consuming enough fruits and vegetables to meet the recommendations included in the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That is why eating a nutritious diet containing plenty of fruits and vegetables and maintaining a healthy weight are critical ingredients in a recipe for a healthy New Year. Consuming more nutritious foods will help promote good health, reduce the risk for many diseases including type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer as well as contribute to lowering the costs of chronic illness in the United States.
Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A. (ret.) is a Senior Fellow in Health Policy at New America and a Clinical Professor at the Tufts and Georgetown Schools of Medicine. Dr. Blumenthal served for more than 20 years in senior health leadership positions in the Federal government in the Administrations of four U.S. Presidents including as Assistant Surgeon General of the United States, the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of Women’s Health, and as Senior Global Health Advisor in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She also served as a White House Advisor on health. Prior to these positions, Dr. Blumenthal served as Chief of the Behavioral Medicine and Basic Prevention Research Branch and Chair of the Health and Behavior Coordinating Committee at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She has chaired numerous national and global commissions and conferences and is the author of many scientific publications. Dr. Blumenthal is the Director of the snaptohealth.org website and served as Chair of the 53% Conference that examined digital media strategies to strengthen the WIC Federal Food Assistance program. Admiral Blumenthal has received numerous awards including honorary doctorates and has been decorated with the highest medals of the U.S. Public Health Service for her pioneering leadership and significant contributions to advancing health in the United States and worldwide. Named by the New York Times, the National Library of Medicine and the Medical Herald as one of the most influential women in medicine, Dr. Blumenthal was named the Health Leader of the Year by the Commissioned Officers Association and as a Rock Star of Science by the Geoffrey Been Foundation. She is a recipient of the Rosalind Franklin Centennial Life in Discovery Award.
Rachel Greene is a Health Policy Fellow at New America in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in History from Purdue University and was a three time All-American in rowing. She is currently a medical student and is a recipient of the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation Cohen-Gadol Medical Student Fellowship.