The more fruits and veggies you eat, the more likely it is that you will:
- Lose weight and keep it off
- Dramatically reduce your risk of numerous ills, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and many cancers
- Feel better
- Look better
- Live longer
Fruits and vegetables contain combinations of nutrients and compounds that are dazzlingly complex, not to mention unique (there’s no way we can get in a pill what comes from whole fruits and vegetables). Scientists are only beginning to understand their wonders. Instead of asking, “Is 5 a day enough?” they’re asking, “Why stop at 5?”
They’re discovering that the benefits from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables are profound. Here is just a sampling of the research:
Reducing Blood Pressure
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which includes 8 to 10 servings of fruits and veggies daily, has been repeatedly proven to lower blood pressure in studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Like the Pritikin Eating Plan, DASH is also low in sodium and recommends whole grains, legumes (beans), nonfat dairy, seafood, white poultry, and lean meat.
Long-Term Weight Loss
The National Weight Control Registry, consisting of more than 5,000 men and women who have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for 5.5 years, reports that most of its members maintain a low-calorie, low-fat diet full of fruit and vegetables. Most members also exercise, on average, about one hour per day.
Drawing on findings from the largest report ever on lifestyle habits and cancer prevention,* the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that if the only change people made was to eat more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, cancer rates would drop by as much as 20%. That’s how powerful fruits and vegetables are.
The people with the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world – the men and women of Okinawa, Japan – eat at least 7 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of fruit every day. They have 80% fewer heart attacks and 80% less breast cancer and prostate cancer than Americans do. They’re impressively lean, too. Average body mass index (BMI) ranges from 18 to 22 (lean is less than 23).
So, is 5 a day enough? If you want more weight loss, more good health, and more protection from heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, make your goal more — 9 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
The really good news is: Servings add up quickly…
Just a half cup of cooked vegetables adds up to 1 whole serving.
- A cup of raw veggies is 1 serving.
- Just a half cup of cut-up fresh fruit is 1 serving.
- 1 small to medium piece of fresh fruit, like a medium-sized apple or orange, or a small bunch of grapes, is 1 serving.
Imagine then! Throw a bag (6 ounces) of baby spinach into a wok, saute it up with a little, say, chili garlic sauce or lemon juice, and you’ve tallied up about 3 to 4 servings of veggies. Voila!
Or sit down with a hefty bunch of green grapes while reading the newspaper, and down goes another 2 servings. It’s that easy (and tasty)!
Here are 10 more tips for getting more fruits and veggies into your daily life:
- Begin your day with fresh fruit. Top your cereal with berries. Peel a banana. Slice open a melon.
- Make your midmorning snack a bag (or 2) of baby carrots. Jazz them up, if you’d like, with a little hummus dip. Whip up your own tasty (and inexpensive) hummus. Simply blend in a food processor 2 garlic cloves, 1 can of no-salt-added garbanzo beans, 2 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt, and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
- For lunch at the sandwich shop, ask for extra tomatoes and greens. Do you see anything else behind the counter that’s veggie-based, like fajita-style combinations of sliced green peppers and onions? Ask for a dollop of them on your sandwich as well.
- For a midafternoon snack, try vanilla yogurt (nonfat, sugar-free) topped with sliced summer-fresh fruit, like peaches. Delish!
- Roasting baby red potatoes for dinner? Add to the roasting pan sliced red bell peppers and onions.
- No time to cook? Just throw in a big bunch of greens, like kale and mustard greens, and other vegetables to your ready-made soup. For crunchier, longer-cooking veggies like broccoli, microwave them for a couple of minutes before adding them to your soup.
- Buy in bulk. At big box stores like Costco, you get huge quantities of fabulous season-fresh fruit (such as 12 mangoes in one box) for really good prices. Best of all, you’ll be extra-motivated to enjoy all those mangoes and other produce over the next few days because nobody likes to see good food spoil. (And the more fruit and veggies you’re eating, the less room you’ll have for fattening snacks like chips.)
- Enjoy the many farmers’ markets sprouting up this time of year. Ask the growers: What’s new? What’s tasty? And what’s the easiest, most delicious way to prepare it?
- When entertaining, make one of your appetizers a huge serving platter full of finger-food veggies like cherry tomatoes, radishes, sliced celery, and sliced jicama. What a great way to start a meal (and curb hunger so that you’re eating less of the more calorie-dense fare that follows).
- Finish the day with a luscious Berry Mousse. Blend together till smooth your favorite fresh berries, silken tofu, Splenda, and a little vanilla extract. Or simply sit down to your favorite evening show with a bowl of plump Bing cherries – they’re starting to show up at markets. “Sweet” doesn’t get any better!
* Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington, DC. (2007).