Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins and minerals, can help fight chronic diseases, such as heart problems, diabetes and even some cancers, a growing body of clinical studies have shown. Yet, only 1 in 10 Americans are getting enough fruits and vegetables, says a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Depending on age and gender, federal guidelines recommend that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups a day of fruits, and 2 to 3 cups a day of vegetables as part of a healthy diet.
Yet, the CDC’s newly released report , which focuses on data gathered during 2015, found that just 9 percent of adults met the the recommendations for vegetables, ranging from 6 percent in West Virginia to 12 percent in Alaska. Only 12 percent of adults met the recommendations for fruits, ranging from 7 percent in West Virginia to 16 percent in Washington, D.C. Consumption of fruits and vegetables was lower among men, young adults and adults living in poverty, the CDC report said.
Florida fared slightly better than the national averages, registering at 14 percent for those who meet the fruit-intake recommendation, and 10 percent for vegetables.
“This report highlights that very few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day, putting them at risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease,” said Seung Hee Lee Kwan, of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, and lead author of the study. “As a result, we’re missing out on the essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that fruits and vegetables provide.”
The American Heart Association recommends a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and fish and limited in saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars. A healthy diet should also include low fat and fat free dairy products and high fiber, whole grains.
Antioxidants, which are found naturally in fruits and vegetables, protect the body’s cells from harmful molecules, often referred to as ‘free radicals.” As a result, these foods can help the body prevent or fight inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, which is not only good for digestion but also helps lower cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels.
“Plants contain thousands of chemicals and healthy oils that hinder key steps in the development of disease and inflammation,” says Natalie Castro, chief wellness dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida. “The high fiber and nutrient content in plant foods like vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit have shown to help control blood-sugar swings after meals, improving how our bodies metabolize the nutrients.”
Previous studies have found that high cost and limited availability have been barriers to fruit and vegetable consumption.
The CDC’s Guide to Strategies to Increase the Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables  proposed strategies to increase access to fruits and vegetables, including:
- Start or expand farm-to-institution programs in childcare, schools, hospitals, workplaces and other institutions.
- Improve access to retail stores and markets that sell high quality fruits and vegetables.
- Ensure access to fruits and vegetables in cafeterias and other food service venues in worksites, hospitals and universities.