So you've been trying to eat right, working to fit in your "5 a day" servings of fruit and vegetables. Well, the government has some news for you: Forget five a day. More is better.
The CDC and the Produce for Better Health Foundation have launched a national campaign with the message, "Fruits & Veggies -- More Matters."
The new slogan replaces the old "5 a Day" campaign, which dates back to the early '90s. The reason? Under the U.S. government's latest food guidelines, five servings of fruits and vegetables may not be enough. Adults need anywhere from 7-13 cups of produce daily to get all the health benefits of fruits and vegetables -- including possible protection against obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Making It Work
But for many of us, it's been a challenge to fit even five servings of fruits and veggies into our daily diets. How can we hope to eat as many as 13 cups? It's really not so difficult, says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. She offers these tips to help you get there:
- For peak flavor and good value, buy fresh produce in season. But keep in mind that "flash-frozen" or canned without salt or heavy syrup can be just as good as locally grown produce," Ward says.
- Always keep a stash of frozen vegetables on hand, to toss into soups, salads, stews, and egg dishes or to microwave for an easy side dish.
- Splurge on pre-washed, pre-cut fruits and veggies. "They are more expensive, but if you consider the waste when washing and cleaning produce, it makes them roughly equal, and the convenience may help encourage everyone in the family to eat more," says Ward.
- Experiment with new types of fruits and veggies -- like a broccoli slaw salad mix, or pomegranate juice. Remember that just because you didn't like certain fruits and veggies as a child doesn't mean you won't like them now. "Your taste buds change, and you will be pleasantly surprised if you give them another chance," says Ward.
- Vary the texture. Kids tend to like raw, crunchy fruits and veggies with low-fat dip. Try shredding veggies to top sandwiches or salads.
- Choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes for more potassium and beta carotene.
- Go easy on sauces. Instead, flavor vegetables with fresh or dried herbs and a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.
- Have a vegetarian meal at least once a week. It can be as simple as soup and salad, or a stir-fry meal.
- Eat a salad full of fruits and/or veggies each night with dinner. Just go easy on the dressing and high-fat toppings.
- Grill fruits and vegetables to make them sweeter and more delicious.
- Chop, dice, or shred vegetables into muffins, stews, lasagna, meatloaf, and casseroles.
- Use pureed vegetables to thicken soups, stews, gravies, and casseroles.
- Decorate plates with edible garnishes, like cucumber twists, red pepper strips, or cantaloupe slices.
- Keep a bowl of fruit on the counter and some cut-up vegetables in the refrigerator for healthy snacks.
- Remember that while 100% fruit juice is a good choice, whole or cut-up fruit has the added benefit of fiber.
- At breakfast, add fruit to yogurt, pancakes, waffles, or cereal.
- Whip up a smoothie made with fruit and low-fat or nonfat yogurt for a quick, nourishing snack or meal.
- Freeze grapes and bananas for a refreshing and cool treat.
The New Slogan
A year of consumer testing and research went into development of the "More is Better" slogan, says Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Produce for Better Health Foundation.
The research found that only 50% of consumers were aware of the "5 a day" message, and even within that group, only 1 in 5 was meeting the recommendation, says Pivonka. So the foundation knew a motivating message was needed.
"We wanted to be sure that the message was encouraging, and communicated that eating more is better for you, with an emphasis on making improvements to your diet even if you don't meet the specific recommendation," she says.
It's also a message that dovetails with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines and the individualized "My Pyramid" that replaced the old Food Guide Pyramid. To help consumers better understand the recommendations, advice for produce intake is now given in cups instead of servings, and is tailored to age, gender, and activity level.
"The new pyramid recommends fruits and vegetables in cups instead of servings because it is easier to figure out how much you need," says Ward.
For example, according to MyPyramid.gov, a 25-year-old woman who gets 30 to 60 minutes of activity each day needs 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily. One cup of fruit is equivalent to 1 cup of cut-up fruit; one small apple, a medium pear, or a large peach; 1/2 cup dried fruit; or 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice. One cup of vegetables equals 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of leafy greens.
The Power of Produce
There's plenty of scientific evidence to document the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are brimming with disease-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, complex carbohydrates, and protein. Not only that, but they're naturally low in sodium and calories, cholesterol-free and virtually fat-free.
"A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is your best defense against obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and other chronic diseases," says Ward.
It's important to eat a rainbow of colored fruits and vegetables every day, Ward says. The pigments in fruit and veggies act as antioxidants -- helping to rid your body of "free radicals," that can damage cells.
And with two-thirds of American adults overweight, the weight-control benefits of fruits and veggies are especially important. Fruits and vegetables contain plenty of fiber and water to help you feel full, and thus prevent overeating. Substituting fruits and vegetables for "empty calorie" foods that offer little nutritional value can really make a difference in your weight, says Pivonka.
Beyond that, she says, fruits and vegetables can simply help you feel better.
"In our consumer research, we found that people who ate lots of fruits and vegetables had more energy and felt better," says Pivonka.