Experts recommend we consume five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day for optimal health. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages us to fill half our plates with them for each meal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that most adults should consume 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit a day and two to three cups of vegetables a day.
There is good evidence behind these recommendations. Fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers. Studies have also shown that those who consume more produce items are usually healthier and live longer than those who eat fewer of these items.
This isn’t news to most of us. We know that fruits and vegetables promote good health, and we do try to eat them more often. Most of us struggle, however, in getting five to nine servings a day. The CDC reported in 2013 that between 2007 and 2010, half of the U.S. population consumed less than one cup of fruit and less than 1.5 cups of vegetables daily. Three-quarters of them did not meet the fruit intake recommendations, and 87 percent failed to meet the vegetable intake recommendations.
What can we do about it? We have some tips for you. There are many simple, convenient ways you can work more fruits and veggies into your daily meals so that you’re getting what you need without having to stress out about it.
Is It Necessary to Get Up to 9 Servings?
Before you start making an effort to add more produce to your diet, you first need to be convinced that it’s necessary. It can be hard sometimes in the midst of our busy lives to believe that our morning orange juice or lunchtime apple isn’t enough.
“I ate my fruit today,” we say. “I’m good.”
Here’s why it’s important to eat more: You’ll be increasing your odds of living a longer, more comfortable life. If we look at what the scientific research is telling us, we can see that consuming more fruits and vegetables today is a simple way to help ourselves to feel our best 10, 20 and even 30 years from now.
In a recent 2017 study out of London, researchers found that consuming 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day could prevent an estimated 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide. The scientists analyzed 95 studies on fruit and vegetable intake and found that the previously recommended five servings a day reduced disease risk, but the greatest benefit came from eating 10 portions.
This amount was also associated with a:
- 24 percent reduced risk of heart disease
- 33 percent reduced risk of stroke
- 28 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- 13 percent reduced risk of cancer
- 31 percent reduction in dying prematurely
Several other studies have found similar results. In 2004, researchers reported that compared with those who ate less than 1.5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, those who averaged eight or more were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Foods that were found to be especially healthful included green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard and mustard greens as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit were also believed to be important.
Research has also found a link between consuming more fruits and vegetables and reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. Tomatoes, for example, are potentially protective against prostate cancer, and nonstarchy veggies to be potentially protective against cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach. Fruit is believed to help protect against lung cancer.
We also know that eating more of these items improves gastrointestinal health. All fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, which helps trigger regular bowel movements and maintain regular digestive function. Because they’re good sources of antioxidants and nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, they’ve also been found in some studies to help protect eye health, potentially reducing risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
What Constitutes One Serving of a Fruit or Vegetable?
With all these potential health benefits, it’s easy to see why trying to eat more fruits and vegetables each day would be worthwhile. Even if you can’t get in nine or 10 every day — and some people who eat lower calories overall may not even want to go for that much — just getting in a few more is a healthy goal to shoot for.
What exactly constitutes a serving? It’s not always easy to tell, so here are a few guidelines.
The American Heart Association (AHA) says that one-cup of raw leafy vegetables, one-half cup of other vegetables or one-half cup of vegetable juice makes up one serving. One medium fruit about the size of a baseball is one serving, as is one-half cup chopped, cooked or canned fruit. One-half cup of juice also works.
Here are some other examples that may help. All of the following equal one serving:
- One small apple or one large orange
- One small bell pepper
- One-half cup berries or grapes
- One cup coleslaw
- 12 baby carrots or two medium whole carrots
- One medium baked or sweet potato
- One large ear of corn or one cup of corn
- Two small raw tomatoes, one cup cooked tomatoes or 20 cherry tomatoes
- One cup diced melon
- One-half cup dried fruit
- Two large plums
- Four spears of asparagus
- Two stalks of celery
- One-half medium-sized cucumber
- One cup cooked beans
- One whole zucchini or one cup cooked squash
15 Ways to Add More Fruits and Vegetables to Your Day
Now to the nitty-gritty: how can you get more of these healthy foods into your daily diet?
It’s important to remember that you need a balance of all food groups, including lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, healthy fats and dairy, so don’t forget to include these items into your weekly dietary plan as well. Then try the following tricks to sneak in a few more servings of fruits and vegetables.
1. Toss Some Berries on It
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries go with just about anything. Whenever you’re about to eat something, ask yourself if a few berries would make it better. They work particularly well on oatmeal and other types of cereal, yogurt, pancakes and green salads.
Instead of reaching for a cola, ask for a small glass of 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice instead. There are so many options to choose from — apple, orange, tomato, cranberry, mixed vegetable and more — that you can still indulge your taste buds while consuming a much more nutritious option. Be careful to limit it to one or two small glasses a day as juice is high in calories and often in sugar as well.
3. Use the Versatile Banana
Bananas are like berries — they’re good on a lot of things. Plus, they’re handy — you can take one on the go in the morning or store it for your lunch or an afternoon snack. If you’ve got more time, slice it up on a piece of whole-grain toast with peanut butter, on top of your bagel or inside your pancakes. Bananas also make great additions to your smoothies.
4. Dress Up Your Sandwiches
Lunchtime is a great opportunity to add more veggies into your diet. If you’re a sandwich lover, pile on the lettuce and tomato, but don’t forget other goodies like alfalfa sprouts, chopped celery, sliced bell peppers, raw spinach and sliced or mashed avocado. If you’re eating tuna or chicken salad, add in some apple chunks, pineapple, chopped celery or raisins to the mix. Throwing in few more of these will make your sandwich tastier and crunchier while packing in a lot more nutrients with few added calories.
5. Make Your Salad Fun
You can get creative with your salads. These healthy bowls don’t need to be boring. Start with your mixed greens, lettuce or spinach, but don’t stop there. Add in some tomato, diced carrots, mushrooms, sprouts, olives, celery, radishes and more — the options are nearly endless. Then, add a few kidney or garbanzo beans on the side and a few berries on the top, and you’ll take a big chunk out of your required servings for the day.
6. Create Your Own Nut Mixes
Mixed nuts are a handy, convenient and healthy snack, but you don’t have to settle for what you find in the store. Using some small resealable plastic bags, you can make your own mixes that are much healthier. Add in your favorite nuts, then put in some of your favorite dried fruits like bananas, raisins, cranberry raisins, apricots and shaved coconut. You can also sprinkle the mix on top of your lunchtime salad.
7. Cook Your Own Soup
Most store-bought soups are full of broth, sodium and noodles. These are the cheapest ingredients, so manufacturers bulk up their soups with these and then toss in a few vegetables and small meat chunks. If you make your own soup, such as in a slow cooker, you can add a lot more vegetables in, making it a much healthier meal. Cook fresh or leftover veggies until tender, add in the broth, some beans and your protein, and you’re good to go. Virtually any vegetable works in a soup. Some of the common ones are carrots, celery, bell peppers, corn and tomatoes. If you’re making chili, replace half the meat with beans and vegetables.
8. Make Your Pizza Healthier
When making your own pizza, you can add whatever you want to it, but you can add on some toppings even to take-and-bake varieties so that you don’t have to start from scratch. Get a plain cheese pizza from your favorite shop, then take it home and add on some raw spinach, green peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, sliced zucchini and olives. If you have a shop that will pile these on for you, you’re in luck.
9. Learn to Make Tasty Omelets
If you like your scrambled eggs in the morning or at night, dress them up with veggies to make a healthy omelet. Spinach, tomatoes, avocado, peppers, mushrooms, onions and summer squash and cucumber all work well in cooked eggs.
10. Grate and Sneak Them In
You can sneak grated or pureed vegetables like zucchini, cauliflower and carrots into just about anything and barely notice them. Add them to meatloaf, casseroles, burgers, meatballs and sauces — even mashed potatoes. Eggplants, onions and squash also work perfectly in your marinara sauce.
11. Friend the Frozen
Naturally, we believe that fresh is always best, but that’s not necessarily true. Studies have shown that on the whole, fresh and frozen foods are comparable nutritionally as long as you buy them without sauces or other additions, and they are free of preservatives and other chemicals.
Because frozen is often more convenient — readily available without any cleaning or chopping — there’s no reason not to stack your freezer full of economical and healthy bags of frozen fruits and vegetables, and then use them at will. You can add frozen stir-fry mixes to your burritos, pasta and stir-fry dishes. Sauté them with olive oil and garlic and toss with quinoa or pasta, then add lean chicken breast and you’ve got dinner. Frozen fruits work great in smoothies and over ice cream. A bag of frozen veggies quickly warmed in the microwave works great as a fast and easy side dish too.
12. Rethink Dessert
Dessert doesn’t have to be a total nutrition wasteland. You can inject some major nutrients into your sweet treats easily by adding berries to your ice cream or pureeing them to drizzle over your Angel food cake. Choose banana pudding, a frozen banana with melted chocolate, strawberries and cream, baked apples or pears, fruit-juice ice pops, pumpkin pie, yogurt parfait, peach cobbler, fruit sorbet, cinnamon applesauce, carrot cake and more.
13. Dress Up the Dips
You don’t have to give up dips to be healthy — just change them up a bit. Use guacamole or hummus and then just be more conscious of what you’re dipping in. Choose raw veggies or bake up some kale, sweet potato, zucchini or beet chips for a healthier option to your regular chips. For a healthy fruit dip, use Greek yogurt.
14. Bake It Great
If you like to bake things like cakes, bread, muffins, cookies and the like, start looking into how you can add more fruits and vegetables into the mixes. Cranberries, raisins and other types of fruits work great in most baked goods. You can also try carrots in your muffins, zucchini, apples, banana and blueberry in your bread. In most any recipe, you can swap some of the oil for applesauce or pureed pumpkin. Beet puree works well in dark chocolate brownies, sweet potatoes make great scones and squash makes delectable waffles. Many bakers swear by these methods because they make the result moister and tastier as well as healthier.
15. Shop at the Farmers’ Market
There’s something about seeing all those fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables in a farmers’ market that makes us more likely to buy more. They just look more inviting and tasty there than they do in the grocery store. When in season, hit your neighborhood market and get as many healthy produce items there as you can.
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American Heart Association. (2017, March 16). What is a Serving? Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Support/What-is-a-Serving_UCM_301838_Article.jsp
Chow Fruit and Vegetable Serving Cheat Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.chowhound.com/assets/2011/05/FRUIT_VEG_SERVINGS.pdf
Moore, L. V., & Thompson, F. E. (2015, July 10). Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations — United States, 2013. Retrieved from
Produce for Better Health Foundation. (n.d.). Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Key Highlights – Fruits & Veggies More Matters : Health Benefits of Fruits & Vegetables. Retrieved from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/dietary-guidelines-for-americans
Rabin, R. C. (2016, November 18). Are Frozen Fruits and Vegetables as Nutritious as Fresh? – The New York Times. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/are-frozen-fruits-and-vegetables-as-nutritious-as-fresh/?_r=0
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
Vegetables and Fruits | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/
Wighton, K. (2017, February 23). Eating more fruits and vegetables may prevent millions of premature deaths. Retrieved from http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_22-2-2017-16-38-0