Improving Your Health with Fruits and Vegetables
Indiana Epidemiology Newsletter
Michael Wade, MPH, MS
Syndromic Surveillance Epidemiologist
Linda Stemnock, BSPH
Keisha Banks-Thornton, MPH, CHES
Health Education Program Director
“You are what you eat.” You know the old saying, and to a large degree, it is very true. Nutritional habits favoring foods high in saturated and trans fats and refined sugars are very often linked to adverse personal health conditions such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, osteoporosis, and the many challenges associated with them. (1) In contrast, a daily diet comprised of multiple servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and moderate amounts of lean protein is closely associated with lower morbidity and mortality rates relative to the aforementioned health conditions. In addition to being naturally low in fat, fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and many other substances, which, together, account for their beneficial health effects. Greater consumption of fruits and vegetables may also help individuals control their weight. The primary focus of this article is on how we can improve our health by increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends that individuals try to consume 2 cups (4 servings) of a variety of fresh fruits and 2½ cups (5 servings) of vegetables daily for a reference 2,000 calorie intake, with higher or lower amounts depending on the calorie level.
A serving of a fruit or vegetable is equal to:
- ½ cup cut fresh fruits or vegetables
- ½ cup cooked vegetables
- 1 cup raw salad greens
- ¼ cup dried fruit
- ½ cup cooked beans or peas
- 1 medium size piece of fruit (e.g., an orange, medium apple)
- 6-oz cup of 100 percent juice
Variety and color are important. Regarding vegetables specifically, choose from these categories: dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables. (2) Further, fruits and vegetables with the most color tend to have a high nutrient content. Although these recommended serving quantities are based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories, they provide a useful, adjustable daily approximation. All fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before consumption. If not eaten raw, vegetables should be prepared in a low fat manner, thereby taking advantage of their high nutrient density and low fat attributes. There are many excellent low fat cookbooks now available with recipes that make the most of these foods.
How well are Hoosiers doing relative to their consumption of fruits and vegetables? In contrast to data related to many infectious diseases, there is no requirement to report behaviors such as fruit and vegetable consumption; hence, prevalence data must be obtained from another source. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is an annual, random-digit dial telephone survey of adults aged 18 years and older. The survey is conducted through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All 50 states and the District of Columbia participate. The information for this article was obtained from the 2005 BRFSS survey. (4)
Overall, only 22.0 percent of Indiana adults reported eating five or more fruit and vegetable servings daily in 2005, and approximately 45 percent consumed fewer than three servings per day (see Figure 1).
Females were significantly more likely than males to consume at least five fruit and vegetable servings daily (25.6% vs. 18.0%, respectively). Females were also significantly less likely than males to consume either less than one or less than three servings daily (see Figure 2). There was no significant difference between males and females consuming three to fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. (4)
Adults at risk for not eating at least five fruit and vegetable servings daily were more likely to be 18-64 years of age and have a high school education or less. Additionally, there were no significant differences between income levels (range of 20.3-22.8%) or race/ethnicity (range of 19.5-22.0%) for consuming five or more servings per day. Adults who consumed five or more servings daily were more likely to have a normal body mass index than to be considered obese based on reported height and weight (39.0% vs. 21.9%, respectively). (4) Lastly, the 2005 Indiana Youth Risk Behavioral Survey reveals a significant decrease in the percentage of students who ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables in the past seven days (15.5%) in comparison to the 2003 results (20.3%). (5) Adults, especially parents, can be very positive role models and can greatly influence the nutritional habits of their children, which can have life long implications. (6)
Although the above data point out some deficiencies in our current level of fruit and vegetable consumption, we do have a great deal of control over the nutritional choices we make. Therefore, we have a tremendous opportunity to improve our health and spice up our meal times with fruits and vegetables. Summer is a great time for buying fresh produce, so what better time to go out there and takes steps toward healthy change?
- Kennedy ET. Evidence for nutritional benefits in prolonging wellness, Am J Clin Nutr., 2006 Feb;83(2):410S-414S.
- Nieman D. The Exercise-Health Connection, Human Kinetics, 1998.
- Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/recommendations.htm.
- Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Indiana Statewide Survey Data, 2005.
- Youth Risk Behavior Survey System, Indiana Statewide Survey Data, 2005.
- Zabinski MF, Daly T, Norman GJ, Rupp JW, Calfas KJ, Sallis JF, Patrick K. Psychosocial correlates of fruit, vegetable, and dietary fat intake among adolescent boys and girls. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006 Jun;106(6):814-21.