Are You Eating Enough Vegetables?

Seven-a-Day Fruit and Vegetables Recommended Intake
Seven-a-Day Fruit and Vegetables Recommended Intake. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News

"Eat your vegetables." As it turns out, that bit of advice from your parents and grandparents was a pretty good one. Study after study has shown that the more whole fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk for many chronic diseases, including cancer, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease—including heart disease and stroke.

Why Are Fruits and Vegetables So Good for You?

Whole fruits and vegetables (with emphasis on “whole”—we are not talking about apple pie here) contain loads of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients that your body needs.

Studies have shown that, due to many of these nutritious properties, eating whole fruits and vegetables can even reduce inflammation within your body. Fruit and vegetable intake has also been shown to improve the function of blood vessels (known as endothelial function).

Fruit and vegetable intake is not just a trivial matter; in fact, it is essential for life. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 1.7 million, or 2.8%, of deaths worldwide can be attributed to consuming too few fruits and vegetables!

WHO further estimates that insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables causes approximately 14% of deaths due to gastrointestinal cancer, 11% of ischemic heart disease deaths, and 9% of stroke deaths.

Additionally, research has shown that eating three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day will decrease your risk of stroke, and eating more than five servings per day will decrease that risk even more.

In an incremental fashion, the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk. A very good return on your investment.

How Can Eating Fruits and Vegetables Prevent Obesity?

Fruits and vegetables constitute low-calorie foods. A report by WHO has stated that there is convincing evidence that eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk for obesity.

Compared to high-calorie foods such as processed foods that are high in sugar and fat, fruits and vegetables are less likely to contribute to obesity or overweight. And, because they contain higher amounts of dietary fiber and other nutrients, they are associated with a lower risk for diabetes and insulin resistance. For the same reasons, they also make people feel full with fewer calories, thus helping to prevent weight gain.

In one of its guides to preventing obesity as well as other chronic diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maps out strategies for increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The CDC notes that, as research has borne out, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and replacing higher-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables can be an important part of a weight-management strategy.

How Many Fruits and Vegetables Should You Eat?

The simple answer is: as many as possible.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its MyPlate food guidance system, recommends that individuals fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, many U.S. national guidelines recommend eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. However, a large study conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom recently led investigators to recommend at least seven servings every day.

The CDC notes that, to maintain healthfulness and nutrition, a serving of fruit or vegetable should be unsweetened (no added sugars), low in sodium, and 100% juice if a fruit juice. Consumers should also be aware that most fruit juices, even if they are 100% juice with no other additives, still are not as high in fiber (if they contain fiber at all) as a comparable whole fruit would be. Once again, there really is truth to your elders’ advice--eat the whole apple, including the peel, because that’s where the fiber is! Drinking apple juice alone, sans fiber, just isn’t quite the same.


Information sheet: promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world. World Health Organization. Accessed online on May 29, 2014.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: the CDC guide to strategies to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011. Accessed online on May 29, 2014.

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