Americans Don’t Eat Their Veggies 

It may come as no surprise that Americans today are eating more calories and less nutrients than ever. We easily accept that as an obvious conclusion because a glance at the latest statistics on obesity in the United States leaves little room for debate.

Of course, that decline in nutrition is still just an assumption – or it was until now. 

Nation-wide surveys by the CDC are ongoing to keep tabs on our eating habits. Our last update prior to this month covered 2007 through 2010. It showed that over all, only 24% of us consumed the recommended amount of fruit and a scant 13% consumed enough veggies.

Now we have updated numbers for 2013 and the figures have indeed declined. According to the CDC July 10th Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, less than 14% of Americans ate the recommended minimum daily allowances of fruit and vegetables during 2013. 

The number of Americans who ate sufficient vegetables actually remained about the same – roughly 14%. However only 18% of Americans ate adequate amounts of fruits – down a whopping 25% from the previous results.

The Recommended Daily Fruit and Vegetable Intakes

According to the CDC, "Adults who engage in 30 minutes [or less] of moderate physical activity daily should consume 1.5–2.0 cup equivalents of fruit and 2–3 cups of vegetables daily." Even more is recommended for adults who maintain more active lifestyles.

The USDA daily recommended fruit and vegetable intakes match this, at 2 cups of fruit and 2.75 cups of vegetables for the average 2,000 calorie adult diet - varying just a little by gender and age. 

To put that into measurements you'll better relate with, that's more or less a glass of orange juice for breakfast and a hearty salad with dinner. 

Or instead of salad you could choose an ear of corn and a baked potato. 

And instead of orange juice you could opt for a dozen grapes and a slice of cantaloupe. 

Sounds easy enough, right? 

Unfortunately it's just too much to ask for over 80% of Americans. The CDC survey results showed that the average American eats less than a cup of fruit and less than 1.5 cups of vegetables per day. Roughly half of what’s recommended.

Why It Matters

"So I don't eat enough leafy greens every day - I still eat a healthy number of calories and I avoid too much sugar and fat. What's the big deal?"

The big deal is nutrients. Fruits and vegetables contain substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals that you simply won't find in any concentration from the other food groups. 

Fruits and vegetables are so good for us, that an accepted rule of thumb is to ensure that every meal contains at least 50% of one or the other. 

According to Harvard University studies, "A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check."

Skipping Veggies Could Actually Kill You

Last year, The BMJ released research showing that eating more fruits and vegetables regularly reduces your risk of death.

That's not a typo - reduced risk of death. Period. 

Researchers followed a diverse sample of 65,000 people in Britain. The study ran for approximately 7.5 years - during which 4,400 study subjects died of various causes. 

When the results were tallied up, researchers discovered that those subjects who ate 7 or more servings (that's 3.5 cups or more) of fruits and vegetables daily were 42% less likely to have died. 

Heart disease and cancer were the top affected death causes, with the 7 serving group being 25% less likely to die of cancer and 31% less likely to die from heart disease related issues. 

Furthermore, the results were linear - those who ate at least 1 cup of fruits or veggies per day were 14% less likely to have died during the study. Subjects who ate at least 2 cups rose to 29% better odds, and those who aimed for 3 cups reached 35%. 

It's important to note that with most studies of this type, the relationship between eating habits and death does not prove causality. Common sense however would assert that eating healthy is certainly not going to hurt your chances.

Increased risk of death with decreased intake of fruits and vegetables - courtesy of The BMJ

What Can Be Done?

We could just state the obvious at this point and reply, "Go eat some veggies!"

However it's not that simple, and individual cases vary. Many people feel lucky if they've managed to eat lunch at all, let alone a healthy one. And you probably shouldn't just open three cans of green beans and go to town, either.

For one thing, maintaining a balanced diet is important. Foods are organized into groups for a reason - because an ideal diet keeps them all in moderation and control.

Another interesting point came up in the BMJ study cited above: Those study subjects who regularly ate canned fruit and vegetables rather than fresh were actually 17% more likely to have died within the 7.5 year window. 

The reasons for this anomaly are not plainly spelled out, but it seems logical to speculate that the significant amounts of added sugar - and to a lesser degree salt - found in these foods played some role. 

Healthy Is Happy

Why stop at the surface? Your health is directly affected by your emotional state as well. 

If there's one thing we've come back to again and again on the CFS blog, it's the fact that your biological response to long-term stress can be dangerous - potentially even deadly.  Stress triggers fight-or-flight chemical responses in the body that slow your metabolism, inhibit your immune system, increase blood pressure and even stunt growth. 

Many fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and nutrients proven to improve your mood and mindset - acting as natural anti-depressants.

Chromium for example, plays an important role in the production of serotonin, norepinephrine and melatonin - which help the brain to regulate mood and emotion. Want to increase your chromium intake? Dig into some broccoli and potatoes, or drink a glass of grape juice.

Similarly, vitamin B9 (folic acid) is helpful in production of serotonin and creation of new cells. Vitamins B9 and B12 are often paired together to treat depression, and B9 has been shown to increase the efficiency of other antidepressants. Where do you find it? Spinach, Asparagus and Brussels sprouts for a start. If those aren't your favorites, try breaking out the guacamole - Avocado has tons of it. 

These are just a couple of examples. When it comes down to it, vegetables are nature's most perfect comfort foods.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, we're simply not eating enough fruits and veggies. And there's only one solution - we should strive to eat more of them.

Yes, it can be challenging - especially if you live a hectic lifestyle or simply hate the taste of most vegetables. But as I noted in a previous article about motivation, you'll get farther with many small goals than a single large one. Start small - make the effort to simply add one vegetable or fruit to one meal per day. A banana at lunch, some carrots with dinner - find something you can enjoy and make it a part of your daily life. Once you're there, aim for two! It'll get easier as you go.

Consider everything you stand to gain - and the pounds you stand to lose - simply by making an effort to do just a little better, one day at a time.