September is National Fruit and Veggies month. Did you know that there are over 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables? However, more than 90 percent of both adults and children do not eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Eating enough fruits and vegetables matters to us all. It’s a great way to stay healthy and is a perfect fit for busy lives.
To help Americans increase fruit and vegetable consumption for better health, the Produce for Better Health Foundation collaborated with the CDC to create Fruits & Veggies – More Matters. This is a health initiative focused on helping increase consumption and spread the word about the health benefits of adding more fruits and veggies to your diet.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services’ Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that Americans make half their plate fruits and vegetables for meals and snacks, as demonstrated by the MyPlate nutrition guide. The healthiest choices are fresh or frozen with no added sweeteners, but eating them canned, frozen, or as 100 percent juice is better than not at all.
How much is enough? That varies based on gender and age. Women, need 1 1/2-2 cups of fruit and 2-2 1/2 cups of vegetables, and men need 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2-3 cups of vegetables every day. Younger girls need 1-1 1/2 cups of fruit and 1-2 1/2 cups of vegetables, while boys need 1-2 cups of fruit and 1-3 cups of vegetables per day.
Since most fruits and vegetables don’t fit neatly into a measuring cup, how do you know if you’re getting enough? For this, you may have to use your best judgment, but one cup is about a large ear of corn, a large orange, a large sweet potato, a small apple, or a cup of lettuce or spinach. Half of a cup equates to about 16 grapes, 4 large strawberries, 6 baby carrots, 5 broccoli florets, or a medium cantaloupe wedge.
How can you make sure you’re eating enough? Work to find easy ways to add fruits and vegetables into your diet. Start with small changes that lead to big differences. Try adding fruit in cereal, grabbing fruit or raw vegetables for a snack, eating a big salad with lunch or dinner, keeping fruits and vegetables where you can see them or in grab and go bags for convenience, trying a new fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried before, or making a meal with a vegetable as the main course, such as stuffed peppers.
Why is this important? Research shows that fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables also provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health. The vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables are needed for healthy bones and teeth, help decrease the risk of coronary heart disease, help maintain healthy blood pressure, are needed for normal cell function, keep eyes and skin healthy, help protect against infection, help heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy. In addition, most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are filling.
Some produce that are in season in the fall include apples, broccoli, grapes, pears, peppers, and zucchini, among others. Alternatively, try frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. These last longer and are pretty affordable as well.
Remember, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, more matters. Try a new one today! For more information on MyPlate or Fruits and Veggies – More Matters go to www.choosemyplate.gov and fruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org
-- Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.