How many servings of fruits and vegetables did you eat today? According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, only 2% of Americans get their daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Less than 1% of adults in the United States meet the American Heart Association’s definition of an ideal healthy diet. Essentially no children meet the definition.
What you eat affects your mood, your energy level, your weight, your current and future health, and even your cravings and future food choices.
Empty calories come from foods high in calories, but low in nutrients. When you consume empty calories, your body is not satiated. It still craves nutrition and you feel hungry, so you eat more of the empty calories and create a debilitating cycle.
It's easy to eat too many sweet treats and processed foods. The best way to begin getting your diet back on track is with a reality check. Track your food intake over the next week and assess your eating habits. Count your fruit and vegetable servings. Rate your energy levels and general well-being at the end of the day. Did you feel happy, sad, excited, energetic, tired, depressed, sick, jealous, angry? Print our handy chart to make it easy:
Or print this black and white chart if you would rather.
The World Cancer Research Fund, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetic Association, and the American Heart Association have been promoting the simple “Five a Day” slogan for years. The program encourages Americans to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. However, five to nine is the minimum amount of recommended servings. Nine to eleven servings of fruits and vegetables per day is a more accurate recommendation and eleven to fifteen servings are required to improve, not just maintain, health.
If eating ten servings of fruits and vegetables every day seems impossible, re-evaluate your eating habits. Each time you choose to eat unhealthy food it eliminates the opportunity to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet. When fruits and vegetables make up the majority of your meals and snacks, it is possible to eat 10+ servings every day.
Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables will increase your lifespan, improve your quality of life, and help prevent some of the serious diseases that plague our society. The incredible research and discoveries in phytonutrition (plant nutrients) expands every day. Take a look at this list of just a few studies:
- Swedish researchers conducted a long-term study of middle-aged men and found a strong correlation between daily fruit intake and longer life. Those who eat fruit daily live longer. (Strandhagen et al, 2000)
- A research team at Nagoya City University Medical School and Kyoto University in Japan report that prostate cancer is directly related to low levels of beta-carotene (a chemical found in dark vegetables and fruits). (Yoshida et al, 1988)
- Another study conducted at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health found a strong correlation between beta-carotene and decreased risks of lung cancer, melanoma, and bladder cancer. (Stahelin et al, 1991)
- A study analyzing the diets of people in ten European countries over ten years found fruit and vegetable consumption to be associated with a lower risk of death. Those eating fruits and vegetables live longer. (Leenders et al 2013)
- A study in Poland credits changes in diet (specifically the increase in available fruits and vegetables) to a sharp decrease in deaths caused by heart disease. Studies at Harvard Medical School show diets rich in tomatoes decrease deaths related to heart disease. (Zatonski 2005)
- The Journal of the National Cancer Institute recently reported that men eating three servings of vegetables per day cut their chances of prostate cancer nearly in half. The report claims that cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and mustard greens) seem to be the most potent in combating cancer. (Cohen 2000)
- Dr. C. Stoney of Ohio State University reported that “People who have deficiencies in folic acid and the B vitamins…are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.” The best source of folic acid and vitamin B is green, leafy vegetables. (OSU 1999)
- The American Cancer Society claims that about one third of cancer deaths in the United States could be attributed to lifestyle (poor diet, inactivity, and excess weight). (American Cancer Society 2014)
- A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to decreased risk of atherosclerosis, angina, diabetes, stroke, and loss of sight. (NIH 2014)
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year. Cardiovascular disease claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined. 787,000 Americans died from heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases in 2011. Cancer accounts for 8 million deaths per year worldwide. More than 1,500 people in the U.S. are expected to die from cancer every day.
How many people could live longer if fruits and vegetables were a more integral part of the American diet? More importantly, how could their quality of life be enhanced? America is laden with chronic lifestyle diseases. Is your health being slowly depleted through poor food choices along with millions of other Americans?
Though there are no guarantees, there is one absolute. Fruits and vegetables will decrease your risk. Current and ongoing research shows that lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer, may be caused or prevented by diet.
We often look at cures as miracles and seldom recognize that prevention is more miraculous than cures. There is no way to know what your own body will have to fight in the future. However, we do know that eating more fruits and vegetables will strengthen your body and improve your odds in any health struggle.
As you work to increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables you eat every day, you will help prevent future illness, increase your energy levels, and improve emotional well-being.
- American Cancer Society. 2014. “Diet and Physical Activity: What’s the Cancer Connection?” http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/dietandphysicalactivity/diet-and-physical-activity.
- Cohen, Jennifer H, Alan R Kristal, Janet L. Stanford. 2000. “Fruit and Vegetable Intakes and Prostate Cancer Risk.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 92(1): 61-68. doi: 10.1093/jnci/92.1.61
- Leenders M, Sluijs I, Ros MM, Boshuizen HC, Siersema PD, Ferrari P, et al. 2013. “Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality: European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition.” American Journal of epidemiology. 178(4):590-602. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt006.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH). 2014. “What is Atherosclerosis?” http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/atherosclerosis/printall-index.html
- Ohio State University (OSU). 1999. “Stress Increases Blood Chemical Related to Heart Disease.” http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/homocys.htm
- Stahelin, Hannes B, K Fred Gey, Monika Eicholzer, and Eric Ludin. 1991. “ß-Carotene and cancer prevention: the Basal Study.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53:265S-269S. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/53/1/265S
- Strandhagen E, Hansson PO, Bosaeus I, Isaksson B, and Eriksson H. 2000. “High Fruit Intake May Reduce Mortality Among Middle-Aged and Elderly Men. The Study of Men Born in 1913.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54(4):337-41. doi: 10.1038/1600959.
- Yoshida, Osamu, Hirohiko Yamabe, Fritz H. Schroeder, Yoshiyuki Ohno, Kenji Oishi, and Kenichiro Okada. 1988. “Dietary Beta-Carotene and Cancer of the Prostate: A Case-Control Study in Kyoto, Japan.” Cancer Research 48:1331-1336. http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/48/5/1331
- Zatonski, Witold A, Walter Willett. 2005. “Changes in dietary fat and declining coronary heart disease in Poland: population based study.” BMJ 2005:331-187. doi: 10.1136/bmj.331.7510.187