I have been a dietitian for almost a decade. I have worked in the clinical setting, community, and industry. I have worked with the young and the old, those with diseases and those with perfect health, and the common struggle I see is not enough fruits and vegetables. In fact in 2015 the CDC stated that only 1 in 10 adults were meeting the federal fruit and vegetable recommendations which is about 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of veggies. Hence the campaign “5 a day.”
But here’s the thing, even that number is low. Not only are we falling short, we are falling short of a minimum not the ideal. Other studies looking at diets such as the mediterranean or the dash have indicated that 10 servings a day is more the ideal. Canada recognized this and updated their recommendation to 7-9 servings for women and 8-10 for men each day.
But why do we care, what is so special about fruit and vegetables anyway. Well…. a lot. Probably too much to go into in one blog post, so here is the high level reasons why I am so passionate about helping people eat more fruits and vegetables.
First is nutrient density aka lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and more in a low calorie package. Can you get many of these nutrients from other sources, of course, but often they come with many more calories. So it is more efficient to get them from fruits and vegetables. Now I am not going to talk about weight on here much. I think weights it is often too focused on in the world of nutrition, but if you are looking to lose or maintain weight, nutrient density and not over eating calories matters, in fact it matters a lot.
Second is the nutrients not stated above, phytonutrients. We are always learning more about human nutrition. The research is ever evolving and we are still discovering new phytonutrients and the important roles they play. However when we get too caught up in looking at a specific nutrient we often lose sight of the bigger picture. I appreciate good reductionist research diving into the important roles of a specific nutrient, we can’t forget about synergy. No nutrient acts singly in the body. Calcium plays a role in bone health, but it is one player in a much bigger game along with magnesium, potassium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and protein to name a few, not to mention total energy and hormones. This is why I also like to look at not just specific nutrients, but food patterns. This type of research, epidemiology, doesn’t show causation, but it shows powerful correlations. While we may not know every single role of every single nutrient in a blueberry, what we know from looking at food patterns is that fruits, like blueberries correlate to less disease and maybe that is because of the anthocyanin, maybe its something else, or the combination of nutrients.
Bottom line, as I have worked over the last decade on helping people improve their nutrition, with the exception of just making sure they get enough food to avoid malnutrition, the most impactful change I have seen has been when people shift their eating patterns to one that is rich in fruits and vegetables. I want to help everyone improve their eating patterns, by adding to their diets. Shifting eating patterns in a way that will not only improve health, but also allow for flexibility and connection. I hope you stick around to learn more!
We’ll talk soon!