We all know we need to eat the right amount of Fruits and Vegetables every day to be healthy. But for years we have been lied to by the media and advertisements about how "hard" and "difficult" it is to eat enough of these important nutritional foods every day.
What you have not been told is what exactly is recommended that you ingest to reach daily for optimal nutritional value for healthy living. Many news reports and commercials cite the USDA's recommendation on servings of different Macro Nutrients on the Food Pyramid/MyPlate. So in order to drive the point home, lets review exactly what the USDA states specifically.
The USDA recommends 5 to 9 servings of Fruits and Vegetables daily. These serving recommendations are based on measurements in cups. If you have cooking measurements around the house, you can directly measure your food if you want to meal prep. But many people do not have the patience or time to measure out all these portions to make sure they are getting the exact amount of fruit and vegetables.
According to the USDA 2010 report, adults between the ages of 19 and 64 need between 17 to 21 cups of fruits and vegetables each week. This averages out to 2.5 to 3 cups daily. That is actually very attainable if we think about how much we eat on a daily basis.
Now lets simplify all this information. As a NASM Certified Nutritional Specialist, I know that these recommendations are what we would call the base minimum of what people need to be healthy. Getting in just enough good food is not enough for optimal functionality of the human body. So lets review what you can eat every day to get in the proper amount of fruit and vegetables your body needs to be healthy and function properly.
Fruits:-1 Medium to Large banana equals one serving of fruit. Bananas are a great source of potassium and fiber as well as a solid source of vitamins C and A. Daily banana consumption will help regulate your digestive system while also helping muscular function. Most people do not get enough potassium in their diet so eating a banana a day will really help ensure you get a solid source of daily potassium and other beneficial vitamins.
-1 Medium to Large size Apple equals one serving of fruit. Apples a a good source of Vitamins A and C, while the skin of an apple being a great source of fiber. Also, the natural sugars in apples are fast digesting, which means the sugars are used as an energy source for the body or converted to glycogen for better brain function. So the old adage about eating "an apple a day will keep the doctor away" isn't far fetched at all!
-1 Medium to Large size Orange equals one serving of fruit. Oranges are one of the best sources of Vitamin C on earth, along with a good source of B vitamins. Also, like apples, the natural sugars in oranges are readily usable by the body and are fast digesting, so they do not get deposited as fat stores. There is no major nutritional difference between Oranges and their relatives Grapefruit and Tangerines. Tangerines have more sugars but less vitamin C value.
Grapefruit have similar levels of vitamin C but also have more Folate in them for energy production. One Grapefruit equals one serving of fruit, which 2 tangerines equal one serving of fruit.
Other fruit options include: Grapes (2 cups equals one serving) & Frozen Fruit (1 cup equals one serving for most fruit)
Vegetables:-One Large size raw carrot or one cup of raw baby carrots equals one serving of vegetable. I want to specify raw carrots because any vegetable that is boiled in water looses between 33 to 50 percent of its nutritional value. Carrots are a great source of Vitamins A, B and K while also being a solid source of fiber. The antioxidants in Carrots (Carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lutein) are important for your eyes functionality and health. Study from UCLA showed that people who regularly consume carrots can lower risks of developing glaucoma. Other long term studies have shown carrots to help reduce risk of developing Cardiovascular Disease and Colon Cancer.
-Four Spears or Two Halves of Pickles equals one serving of vegetables. Pickles are an excellent sources of Vitamin K, which is important for clotting. Be careful what pickles you buy because some are made with high amounts of sodium that can sabotage some people's diets. Please consult your physician if you are on a blood thinner medicine if there are any potential side effects of eating "too many" pickles in one sitting.
-A medium to large size salad equals one to two servings of vegetables. Different salads have different nutritional benefits. A Caesar salad only counts as one serving because there is only Romaine Lettuce while a House salad that includes Iceberg Lettuce, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Onions and/or Peppers, and Olives counts as 1.5 servings of vegetable (Medium size) or 2 servings of vegetables (Large size).
Different types of lettuce of different nutritional values. Romaine Lettuce is very good source of Vitamins A & K along with high quality folate and fiber. Iceberg Lettuce is a great source of fiber and vitamin C. Red leaf Lettuce is very high in antioxidants along with Vitamin A and Lutein.
Other vegetable options include: Peppers (One whole Bell Pepper equals one serving) & broccoli (one cup raw broccoli equals one serving; 1.5 to 3 cups of frozen broccoli equal one serving depending on if it is steamed or boiled in water).
Products derived from fruit:-All Orange Juices are not made the same. The higher the pulp amounts in the Orange Juice the higher value of nutrition is in the juice. Be wary of "No Pulp" oranges juices because the process of removing the pulp and other process the juice is processed through remove nutritional value from the juice while also adding unnecessary flavoring and non-organic sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. The longer the ingredients list is on the back label that is not actual fruit, the more "junk" has been added to the juice, diluting the nutritional value and making that juice more of a sugar drink than anything else. These same guidelines can be applied to juices that claim to be derived from vegetables.
-Similar to what I stated above about Orange Juice, Apple Sauces have the same dilemma. When you go to the local supermarket it is very difficult to find chunky apple sauce without a bunch of "junk" added into the product as "preservatives" to make it last longer. When looking at the ingredients label, if there is anything else added to the Apple Sauce aside from Apples, Water and Ascorbic Acid, then you know the nutritional value has been diluted. If you want to be fully sure of what you are buying is healthy, many local farmers markets from May through September have in stock organic chunky apple sauce OR you can buy a couple pounds of apples and make your own homemade apple sauce.
In conclusion, you do not need to buy a powder or spend hundreds of dollars on a juicing or shake diet program to get the necessary amount of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better your body will feel and function. Don't be fooled by TV and internet ads making claims that you now know are not true: You CAN get 5-12 servings of fruits and vegetables every day on your own and for half the price of those products that commercials are pitching you on.
-USDA Fruit servings Breakdown
-USDA Vegetable servings Breakdown
-Dr. Jim Stoppani: Choosing The Proper Foods for You
-Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State: Potassium Research
-Carrots: What you need to know
-Are Pickles Healthy To Eat?
-Colorado State University: Health Benefits and Safe Handling of Salad Greens