When did deciding what to eat get so complicated? Even as a registered dietitian, I find it hard to keep up. I hear some of the same questions often. Are carbs bad or good? Is butter back? What did cavemen really eat, anyway? It can feel like nothing about food today is a “sure thing.”
Still, when I look at the science, I continue to come back to this one thing. What if I told you that one key ingredient to a healthier, happier life is to stuff your face – I mean really go to town. You can. You really can – with fruits and vegetables – fresh, frozen, dried, canned and 100% juice. And if you’re like 90 percent of Americans, you’re likely not getting enough each day. Not only can they be delicious, fruits and vegetables also have a unique and powerful combination of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium, as well as fiber and bioactives.
Getting real, now: enjoying more fruits and vegetables, in all forms and varieties, is the single most important action we can take to save lives. In fact, millions of deaths worldwide may be attributed to not eating enough fruits and vegetables. A new comprehensive scientific review, supported by an unrestricted educational grant from the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) and authored by more than a dozen nutrition scientists, highlights how fruits and veggies can keep us happier and healthier. Here’s what you need to know:
- Five servings of fruits and veggies per day isn’t the ultimate goal, it’s the minimum – so eat until your heart’s content, as part of a healthy, balanced diet along with an active lifestyle. While benefits like reduction in heart disease risk can be seen starting at the minimum 5 servings per day, more may even be better. The new scientific review found similar benefits for total cancer risk, too. Additional evidence supports benefits of fruits and veggies on eye, skin and bone health, and more. And I’m talking all types – fresh, frozen, canned, dried, 100% juice, and even cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles. Bottomline? When it comes to fruits and veggies, more is more.
- Fruits and veggies’ colors aren’t just pretty, they also help reduce disease risk. The inherent powers of fruit and veggies aren’t only due to their high nutrient content – nutrients that can easily be found in multivitamins or other foods. They’re also packed with bioactives, like flavonoids or carotenoids, that are protective compounds naturally found in fruits and vegetables and contribute to their striking colors. Science shows it’s this synergistic combination of bioactives, micronutrients and fiber that make fruits and vegetables so effective at reducing disease risk. Cruciferous vegetables, dark-green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and dark colored berries are especially good sources of these bioactives. Fruits and vegetables also create vibrant color palates and plates that are pleasing to the eye, creating a sensory experience beyond taste, flavor and basic nutrition.
- Beyond our physical health, fruits and veggies may promote mental health and even happiness. While research is still emerging, eating fruits and vegetables, as part of a healthy dietary pattern, has been associated with overall life satisfaction and happiness. And, fruits and vegetables have also been associated with some improved cognitive abilities and mental health. These findings check out with the results of previous PBH research that found people who eat more fruit and vegetables per week reported feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives.
As president and CEO of PBH, I’m proud of our members’ commitment to food and nutrition research like this review to help us continue to learn more about the powerful role fruits and veggies can play in our lives. While I’ve said this before, it’s worth repeating: the single most important thing we can do to improve the health of our bodies and minds is to enjoy more fruits and vegetables.
And the time is now for the entire produce supply chain industry as well as health professionals, food & wellness experts, chefs, scientists, retail leaders, and other advocates to work together and inspire Americans to enjoy more fruits and vegetables for happier, healthier lives. Join PBH and take the Have A PlantTM Pledge this September, as part of National Fruits & Veggies Month™, a four-week celebration of life’s favorite plants – fruits and veggies! Visit www.fruitsandveggies.org and follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more and for new recipes, snack hacks, meal ideas and other tips.
 Taylor C. Wallace, Regan L. Bailey, Jeffrey B. Blumberg, Britt Burton-Freeman, C-y. Oliver Chen, Kristi M. Crowe-White, Adam Drewnowski, Shirin Hooshmand, Elizabeth Johnson, Richard Lewis, Robert Murray, Sue A. Shapses & Ding Wang (2019): Fruits, vegetables, and health: A comprehensive narrative, umbrella review of the science and recommendations for enhanced public policy to improve intake, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2019.1632258
 Produce for Better Health Foundation. Novel Approaches to Measuring and Promoting Fruit and Vegetable Consumption, 2017.