Saturday, February 22, 2014

How to Enjoy the Recommended Daily Serving of Fruits and Vegetables


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.

Vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are essential for health. In addition, fruits and vegetables contain a class of nutrients called “phytonutrients” that are important for fighting cancer. Nearly four thousand phytonutrients have been discovered. To get the full spectrum of these cancer “phyters,” you need to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from every color of the rainbow.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.” “Americans just aren’t getting enough.” Chances are you’ve heard these phrases a time or two in the past. But what exactly does plenty mean? Five bowls of fruit? Six salads? Nine apples? Two sweet potatoes? How much is enough? The right amount for you depends on several factors, including age, gender, and physical activity. These characteristics determine how many fruits and vegetables you should be eating every day. To get started, check our guidelines below to find the right amount that you need to enjoy on a daily basis.


What does “plenty” mean? More than most Americans consume. If you don’t count potatoes—which should be considered a starch rather than a vegetable—the average American gets a total of just three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The latest dietary guidelines call for five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day (2½ to 6½ cups per day), depending on one’s caloric intake. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight and health, this translates into nine servings, or 4½ cups per day (2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables).

Recommended Vegetable Intake

Moderately active women and men through the age of 50 require 2 1/2 cups and 3 cups of vegetables per day, respectively, while adults over the age of 50 should reduce their daily intake by 1/2 cup. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables counts as 1 cup toward your total daily intake. Although a cup of mashed vegetables is generally more concentrated than a cup of sliced vegetables, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines regard them as equivalent.

An 8-ounce glass of 100 percent vegetable juice also counts as 1 cup of vegetables. While a 1-cup serving of cooked dark leafy greens counts as 1 cup of vegetables toward your daily intake, 1 cup of raw dark leafy greens equates to just 1/2 cup in daily intake terms.

Recommended Fruit Intake

Moderately active women through the age of 30 and moderately active men of all ages require 2 cups of fruit per day, while women over the age of 30 should reduce their daily intake to 1 1/2 cups, according to the USDA. A 1-cup serving of raw or cooked fruit generally counts as 1 cup of fruit toward total daily intake. An 8-ounce glass of 100 percent fruit juice also counts as 1 cup of fruit. Smaller servings of dried fruit, however, count toward more of your daily intake because dried fruit is significantly higher in calories and nutrients. A 1/4-cup serving of raisins, for example, counts as 1/2 cup of fruit in daily intake terms, just as 1/2 cup of dried apricots counts as 1 cup of fruit.

How Do I Eat that Many Servings a Day? 

A 2007 study found that phytonutrients can “communicate” directly with our genes, altering genetic expression. They can suppress the response of cancer-causing genes known as oncogenes while increasing the expression of tumor-suppressor genes. Vitamin pills don’t offer these important nutrients, so you’ll want to substantially increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Remember to eat eight to twelve servings per day. A serving is 2 cup of cooked vegetable; 1 cup of raw salad vegetables; 6 ounces of vegetable juice; 1 medium apple, pear, or other fruit; 2 cup diced, cooked, or canned fruit; or 1 cup of berries. Gradually increase your intake by one to two servings each week until you reach your goal. Try these tips to fit more fruits and vegetables into your day. Here are some helpful tips:

1) Plan to eat two or three 2-cup servings of vegetables at each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Snack on fresh fruits (or additional vegetables), and you’ll surely meet your goal.

2) Plan your meals around vegetables. Plant-based foods should fill 50 to 75 percent of your plate (with proteins and whole grains for the remainder).

3) Be adventurous by expanding your horizons. Try a new fruit or vegetable each week. Have you tried kohlrabi, beet greens, star fruit, kiwi, celeriac, jicama, parsnip, fennel, bok choy, arugula, watercress, burdock root, fava beans, taro root, or mustard greens? Your grocery may provide recipe cards. It’s easy to find recipes online if you’re unsure of how to prepare your new find.

4) Serve vegetable juices with meals and snacks for an easy way to boost your vegetable intake. Choose freshly made vegetable juice, preferably organic and low-sodium.

5) Add 2 cup of finely shredded carrots to 1 cup of salsa. The crunchy texture adds a great spark to the salsa. Or try grated zucchini or summer squash.

6) For breakfast, eat one or two eggs that are high in omega-3 (poached, boiled, or scrambled) with 1 cup of steamed green beans, spinach, arugula, kale, broccoli, zucchini, or other vegetables.

7) Make an egg scramble for breakfast. Dice or shred any combination of onions, red or green peppers, and mushrooms. Sauté the vegetables in olive oil until they are tender. Add eggs. Season with turmeric (which results in a nice yellow color), garlic, thyme, oregano, nutritional yeast, pepper, other spices, or some combination of these ingredients.

8) Make a breakfast burrito packed with pinto or black beans, onions, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and tomatoes.

9) Try a fruit smoothie for breakfast. In a blender, purée 2 cup of green tea (or soy, rice, or almond milk; or organic low-fat yogurt or kefir), 1 tablespoon of whey protein powder, 2 banana, 2 cup of fresh berries, 4 teaspoon of fresh lemon or orange zest, and 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal. For variety, try mango-peach, tangerine-raspberry, pineapple-coconut, blueberry-nectarine, or any combination you desire!

10) Incorporate more green, leafy vegetables into your diet. Choose spinach, Swiss chard, collards, kale, mustard greens, arugula, young dandelion leaves, or beet or turnip greens. Serve cooked greens with scrambled eggs or tofu for breakfast. Add a bunch of chopped greens to soups, stews, or salads. Try this Brazilian healthy food recipe: Salada de Palmito- Hearts of Palm Salad. Mix chopped, cooked greens into hummus or other dips. (Fresh greens have more nutrition, but you can keep frozen spinach on hand for convenience.)

11) Serve vegetable curries (broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, yams, and Brussels sprouts are great in curry).

12) Serve fresh (or frozen) berries with plain low-fat yogurt for a snack or dessert.

13) Grate the peel and pith from a fresh organic lemon or orange, and add the zest to oatmeal, muesli, cereal, whole-grain muffins, waffles, salads, or tea.

14) Keep a bag of baby carrots, celery sticks, red pepper slices, and snap peas on hand for snacking. Serve with hummus, salsa, or bean dip.

15) Expand the variety of vegetables in your salads beyond tomatoes and cucumber. Start with a variety of leafy greens. Banish iceberg lettuce, which is nutritionally “bankrupt,” and choose romaine, red-leaf lettuce, mesclun, raw spinach, beet greens, and other dark, leafy greens. Top with ample chopped, diced, or grated vegetables. Add lots of different colors of vegetables for visual appeal. Try these vegetables in your next salad:

broccoli sprouts
cabbage, red or green
daikon sprouts
eggplant, grilled
fava beans
garlic cloves, roasted
green beans
onion, red or white
peppers, red or yellow
sugar snap peas
sunflower sprouts
yams, grated raw

16) For a treat, fresh fruit is nice for salads too. Try orange slices, raspberries, apple chunks, kiwis, pomegranate pearls, red grapes, mango, or grated orange or lemon zest.

17) When baking muffins, cookies, or other treats, add grated carrots or zucchini to the recipe to boost fiber and carotenoid intake.

18) Use apple sauce or prune purée to replace half of the fat in baked goods. You can use puréed prunes (or baby-food prunes) to replace all the fat in chocolate brownies or baked goods. They add a chewy texture and a sweet flavor. Place a cup of dried, chopped, pitted prunes in a blender and add 3 tablespoons of very hot water. Blend until the prunes are smooth.

19) For a quick favorite family meal, top an organic frozen pizza with extra vegetables (onions, broccoli, red pepper, artichoke hearts, spinach, dried tomatoes).

20) For a simple dinner, try roasted vegetables. Dice onion, leek, fennel, rutabaga, turnip, yam or sweet potato, zucchini, burdock root, red pepper, portobello mushrooms, peeled whole garlic cloves, and sprigs of fresh rosemary (optional). 

21) Toss with olive oil and roast uncovered in the oven at 375°F for 1 hour. Make extra; they are delicious as leftovers.

22) Bake winter squash (acorn, butternut, or spaghetti squash). Make extra and store for a quick meal later in the week.

23) Look for organic ready-made soups with simple ingredient lists in 1-quart boxes. Serve with salad for a quick lunch or snack. Or heat it in a cup and enjoy it as a warming beverage anytime.

24) Add extra chopped vegetables and fresh minced parsley to ready-made tabbouleh.

25) Make kebabs for the grill with zucchini, yellow squash, onions, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplant, or pineapple wedges. (Grilling meats creates carcinogens called “HCAs” and is not recommended, but grilled vegetables are safe.)

26) Combine 1 cup of cooked brown rice with 2 cups of diced vegetables (onions, carrots, zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms, or others). Season with garlic, thyme, and basil. Use this mixture to stuff bell peppers, cabbage rolls, and portobello mushrooms or squash halves. Bake until fragrant and tender.

27) Prepare a big pot of homemade soup or stew (double the vegetables in the recipe) and a salad or vegetable casserole over the weekend. Later in the week, when you don’t feel like cooking, a healthy meal is ready and waiting for you.

28) If you eat organic meats, consider marinating them in fruit juices (try pomegranate, raspberry, or cranberry) or concentrated fruit purées (soak dried apricots or prunes in water to cover, and then purée in the blender). Add rosemary, garlic, ginger, black pepper, thyme, oregano, or other spices. Marinate overnight. Or try mixing 4 cup of mashed blueberries or prune purée in each pound of ground bison (or organic, low-fat beef) for juicy burgers.

29) When eating out, ask to have an extra serving or two of vegetables (without sauce) instead of bread, potatoes, or rice. And load up with lots of raw veggies at the salad bar, like dark-green lettuces (avoid iceberg) and spinach.

30) Find yourself at a fast-food restaurant. Choose a salad and a baked potato topped with salsa.

31) Add extra vegetables to soups, either homemade or canned.

32) Make a quick “pasta salad” by adding 2 cups of cooked whole-grain rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, or other grain to 4 cups of diced vegetables and 2 cup of chopped fresh parsley. Make it as colorful as possible. Season with garlic, black pepper, and basil, and dress with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice.

33) For convenience, look to ready-to-eat (washed, peeled, sliced, grated, or some combination), packaged vegetables at the market. Or set aside some time on the weekend to wash and prepare vegetables for the upcoming week. Having containers of chopped onions, grated carrots, sliced zucchini, and other prepared vegetables on hand simplifies preparation of healthy meals.

34) Put extra vegetables in spaghetti sauce. Try shredded carrots, onions, chopped spinach, roasted eggplant, mushrooms, or some combination of these ingredients.

35) Make a stir-fry for dinner once a week. Cook a diverse assortment of vegetables over medium heat in 1/3 cup of broth and 1 tablespoon of olive oil (add a dash of sesame oil to jazz up the flavor).

36) Bake an apple, quince, or pear for dessert. Core the fruit, stuff the center with a combination of uncooked rolled or steel-cut oats, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and 1 tablespoon of raisins or currants. Bake at 375°F for about 45 minutes (the aroma will tell you when it’s done).

What is a Serving?

The new pyramid recommends fruits and vegetables in cups instead of servings because it is easier to figure out how much you need. Servings are typically measured by the 1/2 cup and cup, and can be tallied up to obtain a total for each day. The goal is to match the number of fruit and vegetable servings actually consumed each day with the total cup number recommended from the above guidelines. For most fruits and vegetables, one half cup represents a serving (including fresh, frozen, and 100% juice). A few exceptions include leafy greens, in which the serving is a full cup, and dried fruit, in which the serving is 1/4 cup. Setting all detailed, specific servings aside, the bottom line is to meet your daily cup totals for fruits and vegetables.

What Exactly Does a Cup Look Like?

A lot of fruits and vegetables, especially those that have been cut or chopped, are easy to measure. If it helps, dig those measuring cups out from the back of the drawer, give the fruit or vegetable in question a measure, and you’ve got your reference point. Generally speaking, for the uncut, a large piece of fruit (banana, grapefruit, apple) or vegetable (medium sweet potato, large ear of corn, bell pepper) is the equivalent of a cup. 

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