Eat your fruits and veggies and live longer. They’re words of dietary wisdom — backed by studies that say these plant-based foods promote good health by providing essential nutrients.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t come close to filling their plates daily with enough fruits and vegetables. Only one in 10 adults can say they do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The lack of produce in our diets help explain the rise in diet-related chronic illnesses, such as obesity and diabetes — and why efforts to promote the benefits of fruits and vegetables continue in earnest.
“One of the best ways to build a healthy plate is by substituting low-calorie foods in place of high-calorie foods,” says Samantha Harris, MD, an endocrinologist with the Scripps Clinic Center for Weight Management. “Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories and are full of nutrients.”
“They’re great sources of vitamins and minerals and fiber. Since they contain fiber and water, they can help fill you up, which helps with weight management,” Dr. Harris adds.
The recommended amount of fruits and vegetables can vary depending on which health organization you ask.
The US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program recommends making half your plate fruits and vegetables.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily.
A recent study of two million adults found that consuming at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables — or a “5-a-day” approach as it is known popularly — could help reduce the risk of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables could get the job done, according to the study published in the AHA journal Circulation.
While portion recommendations may vary, the message from health experts is clear: We need to work in more fruits and vegetables per day into our diets.
There are many ways to do this. Fruits and vegetables play big roles in some of the most popular diets, such as the Mediterranean, paleo and keto diets. Some plants and vegetables are so rich in nutrients that they are often referred to as superfoods. Plant-based diets in general are recognized for their health benefits.
Almost all fruits and vegetables — fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juiced — can meet your daily dietary needs.
Despite our many choices, we still come up short when it comes to getting enough fruits and vegetables. The reasons vary.
Our fast-food culture makes it hard to consume the right amount of produce. At home, fresh fruits and vegetables can add up in costs and be time-consuming to prepare. There are also people who just don't like the taste or texture of some vegetables.
Drinking fresh juice has some health benefits. But it is not recommended for everyone, especially people with diabetes. Fruit juices tend to contain a large amount of sugar, which raises blood sugar levels very quickly.
“As a general rule, eating whole fruit is healthier than drinking fruit juice or fruit smoothies,” says Dr. Harris.
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about juicing for weight loss or how much fruits and vegetables should be in your diet. If you choose to boost your produce intake with juice, read the nutrition label on any product bought at the store. Check the serving size and calorie count and look for added sugar content.
Many juice products are considered sugar-sweetened drinks because they have little juice content and are primarily made up of water with added sugars. Too many added sugars can lead to weight gain and poor nutrition.
Added sugars should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Most American adults currently exceed that limit.
The healthiest type of juice is 100 percent juice or juice with little to no added sugars. But even 100 percent juice has limits.
“When you drink strained juice, you aren’t getting fiber, so it’s very easy to pile calories onto your diet,” says Dr. Harris.
The Dietary Guidelines suggests that at least half of the recommended amount of fruit should come from whole fruit rather than 100 percent juice.
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