NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Reasons to Eat Your Veggies

Government Revamps Effort to Boost Consumption
Of Produce as Understanding of Benefits Grows

Wall Street Journal online
July 25, 2006

The government is stepping up its efforts to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables -- and there are a growing number of reasons why they should.

To promote new dietary guidelines issued last year, U.S. health officials and the produce industry are ditching the familiar "5 A Day" slogan, which urged Americans to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and which had been plastered on everything from baskets of strawberries to pencils handed out in schools. Beginning in March, a new message will be unveiled: "Fruits and Veggies -- More Matters."

The guidelines, which were accompanied by the revamping of the government's food pyramid, include specific amounts of produce, measured in cups, rather than the old, vaguer "servings." And they vary by age, sex and level of activity for everyone over the age of two. A 40-year-old woman, for instance, should eat 2.5 cups of vegetables and 1.5 cups of fruit daily if she exercises less than 30 minutes a day -- more if she is more active. A 65-year-old man who exercises less than 30 minutes a day should eat 2.5 cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit.

• See a list of the 10 most nutritious vegetables and the 10 most nutritious fruits with details on their health benefits.

Published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, the more-individualized advice usually adds up to more than the old five servings, which equaled 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables. People can calculate their individual needs at

The push to step up produce consumption is fueled in part by a growing body of evidence that fruits and vegetables offer even more health benefits than previously understood, and may play roles in preventing heart and eye disease, as well as stomach, colon and other cancers. Also, in 2004, the Institute of Medicine, a federal advisory body, recommended that adult Americans increase their intake of potassium, a mineral that helps to lower blood pressure and is plentiful in many fruits and vegetables.

About 90% of the U.S. population does not meet the government's recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is helping to develop the "More Matters" campaign along with the Produce for Better Health Foundation, a nonprofit group. The average intake amounts to less than two cups of broccoli a day. One of the most popular vegetables in the country is the french fry. At the same time, two-thirds of the adult population is overweight, and over 90 million Americans suffer from chronic diseases, according to the government report outlining the updated food pyramid.

Daily Allowance: A 50-year-old man who exercises less than 30 minutes a day should eat two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables, says
The hope is that by emphasizing "more," rather than a specific number, the new campaign will inspire people to at least add to their intake and expand the variety of foods they eat.

People who eat fruits and vegetables more than three times a day reduce their risk of having a stroke and dying from cardiovascular disease by nearly a quarter, compared with those who eat them less than once a day, according to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study examining data from a national epidemiological survey. Many other studies find a similar inverse relationship between various chronic diseases and fruit and vegetable consumption.

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables may also be one of the best ways to lose weight. For instance, a survey of 7,356 adults published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who ate at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day were less likely than people who ate less to be obese -- even if their diet was high in fat, says Barbara Rolls, one of the study's authors. "Fruits and vegetables really are key players in determining weight status," she says.

There are signs that high consumption of produce may improve bone health, helping stave off osteoporosis. One recent study, also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found an association between high fruit and vegetable intake and bone mineral density in boys and girls ages 16 to 18, and a similar association involving fruit intake in women ages 60 to 83. Vitamin C and other antioxidants in fruit may play a role, the study's authors concluded.

Scientists are increasingly exploring the benefits of compounds known as phytonutrients -- chemicals in plant pigment that can serve as antioxidants, battling free radicals that cause cell damage. Eating tomatoes and tomato products, which contain the phytonutrient lycopene, has been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, and perhaps cardiovascular disease as well, according to several large epidemiological studies in humans.

• Get a customized food guide, based on your age, gender and level of physical activity, using the USDA's My Pyramid plan.

• Use the My Pyramid Tracker to assess your food intake and physical activity, in an online record you can maintain for up to a year.

• Learn more about vegetables, what counts as a cup and tips to help you eat vegetables.

• Learn more about fruits and their health benefits.

Scientists also caution that it's better to eat an actual fruit or vegetable rather than take a pill containing its nutrients. Phytonutrients seem to work in teams, and the impact on health isn't always the same if people are given a high dose of one isolated compound, according to a 2004 review of the literature, conducted by Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor at Cornell University. For example, in one study of 29,133 male smokers published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1996, participants who took high doses of beta carotene actually had an 18% higher rate of lung cancer compared with the group that wasn't given supplements.

Americans also need to eat more of certain vegetables. Potatoes, corn and peas make up 40% of the vegetables that Americans consume, according to the CDC. People aren't eating enough dark green vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts, which contain lots of vitamin C and many phytonutrients, or citrus, which is high in vitamin C and fiber, nutritionists say. "There's no question right now that Americans are eating a very narrow spectrum of fruits and vegetables," says Jennifer Seymour, an epidemiologist in the CDC's division of nutrition and physical activity.

Produce that is bitter and dark-colored has more phytonutrients than lighter-colored produce, says plant physiologist Charles Caldwell at the

USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Still, lighter-colored produce has plenty of benefits, and scientists are working on ways to make it even healthier. Flavonoids, another type of phytochemical with possible anticancer properties, can be doubled or tripled in leaf lettuce grown in greenhouses just by exposing the plants to ultraviolet-B light, the same rays that tan our skin, according to research published last year by Steven Britz, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service. Dr. Caldwell found that lettuce at the front of store shelves had more flavonoids than those at the back, which suggests that fluorescent lights -- which emit small doses of UV rays -- may help them retain or even increase their nutrients.

To get the most nutrients out of fruits and vegetables, it's important to be aware of the impact of cooking, both good and bad, nutritionists say. Heat can destroy vitamin B and C to some extent, but other vitamins aren't affected. Cooking certain fibrous vegetables, like carrots, breaks down their cell walls and appears to actually increase our ability to absorb their nutrients (although so does chewing). Minerals aren't damaged by heat, but some, such as potassium, leech out into the water. So when boiling vegetables, use as little water as possible and don't overcook.

Frozen vegetables and fruits retain the same nutrients as fresh, nutritionists say. Produce may actually be more nutritious if it is flash-frozen immediately after harvest, compared with fresh produce, which may lose nutrients if it sits too long before being eaten. Most fruits don't ripen after they are picked, and they are at their peak nutrition at their peak ripeness, says Cynthia Sass, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Canned vegetables are nearly as good as fresh or frozen, although some vitamins are lost through the canning process. While canned vegetables are often softer than fresh, the fiber remains, nutritionists say.

"Many people feel guilty if they don't have it fresh," says Lisa Dorfman, a sports nutritionist and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "You can have it frozen, and you can have it canned."