Welcome back to our MyPlate Food Groups series! We start off this year with some of our favorite foods: fruits and vegetables! Read more to learn about what foods are included in these groups, the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diets, and how many servings of these foods we should aim to eat each day. We wrap up with some of our favorite snacks and side dishes highlighting fruits and vegetables.
What foods are included in the fruits and vegetables groups?
A healthy eating pattern as described in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes a variety of vegetables from all of the five vegetable subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other. These include all fresh, frozen, canned and dried options in cooked or raw forms, including vegetable juices.
Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients including dietary fiber, potassium, iron and vitamins A, C, E and K. Each of the different subgroups of vegetables contributes different combinations of nutrients which is why it is important to eat a variety of vegetables from all the subgroups. For example, red and orange vegetables provide the most vitamin A, dark-green vegetables are high in vitamin K, legumes provide the most dietary fiber and starchy vegetables are rich in potassium.
The table below shows examples of vegetables in each vegetable subgroup:
|Dark-Green Vegetables||Broccoli, Spinach, Leafy Salad Greens, Kale|
|Red & Orange Vegetables||Tomatoes, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Red Peppers, Winter Squash|
|Legumes||Pinto/Kidney/Black Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas|
|Starchy Vegetables||Potatoes, Corn, Green Peas|
|Other Vegetables||Onions, Green Beans, Cucumbers, Celery, Cabbage, Mushrooms, Cauliflower, Eggplant, Asparagus|
A healthy eating pattern also includes fruits, especially whole fruits. Whole fruits include fresh, canned, frozen, and dried forms. Although 100% fruit juice can be a part of a healthy eating pattern, it is lower in fiber than whole fruit and can contribute more calories than we need when consumed in excess. For these reasons, we should try to consume at least half of the recommended amounts of fruits as whole fruits.
Here are some recommendations for making healthier fruit and vegetable choices:
- When buying canned vegetables and vegetable juice, choose products that are lower in sodium.
- When buying canned fruit, choose fruit that is packed in 100% juice.
- Choose juice that is 100% fruit juice. Some juice drinks are considered sugar-sweetened beverages rather than fruit juice because they are mostly made up of water with added sugar. The percent of juice in a beverage may be found on the package label, such as “contains 25% juice” or “100% fruit juice.”
Why do we need fruits and vegetables?
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet can help protect against many chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancers, and obesity. A lot of the health benefits of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables come from the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients found in these foods. Here is a list of some of the nutrients and health benefits that fruits and vegetables offer:
- Fruits and vegetables are important sources of nutrients such as potassium, dietary fiber, folate, and vitamins A and C.
- Potassium may help maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol and may lower the risk of heart disease.
- Folate helps the body form red blood cells.
- Vitamin A helps keep eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.
- Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and helps with iron absorption.
How many servings of fruits and vegetables do I need per day?
Although we know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, the reality is that most people do not consume enough of these foods. Data from What We Eat in America, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007-2010 shows that about 75% of the US population does not meet the recommended fruit and vegetable intake per day.
The recommended amount of fruit and vegetables for a 2,000 calorie a day diet is 2 cup-equivalents of fruits and 2 ½ cup-equivalents of vegetables per day.
In general, ½ cup-equivalent of fruit is equal to ½ cup portion of fresh, canned or frozen fruit, ½ cup of 100% fruit juice, or ¼ cup of dried fruit.
When it comes to vegetables, 1/2 cup-equivalent of vegetables is equal to ½ cup of raw or cooked vegetables, ½ cup of 100% vegetable juice, or 1 cup of leafy salad greens.
To get a better idea of how many servings of vegetables and fruits you need based on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level, build your personalized MyPlate Plan here!
We know that it can be hard to add more vegetables and fruits to our diet. Several studies, including What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2014 show that including vegetables and fruits as snacks and as side dishes at meals contributes to a higher total intake. Because of this, we have included a few of our favorite snack, side dish and salad recipes that highlight these foods:
Finally, this southwest salad with creamy cilantro dressing makes it easy to include all the vegetable subgroups in one bowl: leafy salad greens (dark-green vegetables), tomatoes (red and orange vegetables), black beans (legumes), corn (starchy vegetables), and onions (other vegetables group).
Follow us next month as we conclude our “MyPlate Food Groups” series with the dairy group. Also, let us know what are some of your favorite vegetable or fruit-filled snacks and side dishes!