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Boosting Access to Fruits and Vegetables continued...

"Ultimately what we are looking to do is increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and we are making progress, but are we making a difference in what people are eating? I'd give us a D to an F, depending on the subgroup," says Laurence Grummer-Strawn, PhD, the chief of the nutrition branch at the CDC in Atlanta.

All the grades weren't bad. There were a few A’s doled out in the new report card, including A’s for efforts to expand the program that provides free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks in schools, and introducing vouchers for fruits and vegetables as part of the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children, as well as the launch of "Fruits & Veggies: More Matters" education campaign.

Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables

Experts agree that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best way to prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

"Eating well, exercising, and weight control are the most important things we can do to reduce our cancer risk," says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, the nutrition director of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. "Our most important strategy for cancer prevention is improving the diet largely through fruit and vegetable consumption."

It is important to eat whole fruits and vegetables as opposed to individual supplements. "They are packed with so many different phytochemicals and antioxidants, and it is really not clear which ones have the health benefits," she says. "Our advice is to eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day to reduce your risk of cancer."

This advice can also benefit cancer survivors, she says

"Being overweight is the leading modifiable risk factor for people with type 2 diabetes," says Stephanie Dunbar MS, RD, the director or nutrition and clinical affairs at the American Diabetes Association in Alexandria, Va. "A dietary pattern [in which] more than half of the diet is fruit and vegetables plays a critical role in preventing type 2 diabetes by assisting with weight management."

Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, director of nutritionfor WebMD, agrees. "Fruits and vegetables are Mother Nature’s finest. They are super nutritious, loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and naturally fat free [and] should be the foundation of everyone’s diet," she says. "As a nation fighting the obesity battle, we need look no further than the produce section to arm ourselves with healthy food that tastes delicious, is filling, easy and very low in calories."

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