AICR research shows that eating plenty of vegetables and fruits can reduce the risk for many cancers and promote better health. Recommended amounts for most adults are 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. Recently released AICR’s Diet and Cancer Report found that even if these targets are not quite reached, increasing vegetables and fruits above very low levels has the potential to reduce the risk of several cancers. More vegetables and fruits also lower the risk of heart disease, and may help reduce weight gain that promotes the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.
The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that only 9 percent of adults eat the recommended amounts of vegetables in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and 12 percent of adults meet the recommendations for fruit. Consumption is the lowest among men, young adults, and adults living in poverty. However, consumption is generally low across all economic and race/ethnicity groups.
The CDC report identifies several barriers to greater consumption, including high cost, limited availability and access, and perceived lack of preparation time. The report puts forth several strategies at the state and community level that can improve people’s access to fruits and vegetables.
- Make fresh produce affordable and convenient. Provide access closer to where people live, work, and go to school. Across the U.S., 31% of farmers’ markets help make fruits and vegetables affordable for low-income mothers and their children.
- Make Farm-to-School commonplace. The CDC reports that 42% of school districts participate in farm-to-school programs, with benefits for children, schools and local farmers. Similar programs can support fruits and vegetables straight from the farm to early care and education providers.
- Strengthen the local food system’s support for fruits and vegetables. Food hubs help small and mid-size farmers markets and allow fruits and vegetables to be distributed to local schools, hospitals, large employers, and retailers. This is a win-win for fruit and vegetable producers and consumers.
“When meat or chicken takes up the biggest portion of your plate, a simple adjustment in food proportions can create a healthier meal without calling for a big adjustment. Double the amount of vegetables in a mixed dish like a stir-fry, casserole or chili, and cut back on the meat portion. Easy!”
States vary in how well their population meets recommendations for vegetables and fruits, and in how they attempt to support it. To check how your state is doing, you can access individual State Action Guides, and get concrete ideas about steps other states have taken from the CDC’s 2018 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables.
Access is only the beginning. The authors of the report also note the need to expand awareness about the value of eating more vegetables and fruits, as well as practical education on how to prepare them.
Tackling Barriers Individually
Including more vegetables and fruits can be easier than it seems.
- Don’t wait for dinner. That’s when most people eat vegetables, but a target of 2 to 3 cups in one meal is hard to reach. Start by including ½ cup to 1 cup at lunch each day. The salad makes it easy, but there are lots of other options. Choose a sandwich that includes sliced raw vegetables (not just one lone lettuce leaf), and even some leftover cooked vegetables. Enjoy a hearty bowl of vegetable soup. If you are making the soup at home, throw in some extra frozen or leftover vegetables as it cooks to ensure at least ½ to 1 cup per person. Instead of chips or fries, munch on some colorful raw vegetables.
- Sweeten breakfast the naturally filling way. Top off your cereal, toast or yogurt with slices of fresh fruit or some quick-thawed frozen berries. Toss a small handful of raisins in your oatmeal as it cooks. If you prefer a savory breakfast, add some avocado or other fruit on the side, and include some spinach, kale, mushrooms, peppers or tomatoes in your eggs.
- Choose an energy-boosting snack with staying power. It can be tempting to reach for a candy bar or snack “doodles” when your energy level is falling and hunger peaks. But if you bring a piece of fresh fruit with you each day, you can satisfy your sweet tooth and get fiber that may help keep you satisfied longer. Experiment with other options that can work for you, too, like raw vegetables dipped in peanut butter, fruit dipped in yogurt or spread with your favorite nut butter or a handful of trail mix.
- At dinner, make some swaps. When meat or chicken takes up the biggest portion of your plate, a simple adjustment in food proportions can create a healthier meal without calling for a big adjustment. Double the amount of vegetables in a mixed dish like a stir-fry, casserole or chili, and cut back on the meat portion. Easy!
AICR’s Healthy Recipes offer ideas for snacks, side dishes, or any meal. Just click by category and find delicious new options you can try.