by Marion Nestle
Nov 11 2010

Three reports: eat more fruits and vegetables

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has just published a review and assessment of the nutritional needs of the populations served by the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), with recommendations for revising the program’s meal requirements.

CACFP supports the nutrition and health of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals—more than 3 million infants and children and more than 114,000 impaired or older adults, primarily from low-income households. CACFP meals must meet regulations designed to ensure that participants receive high-quality, nutritious foods.

The IOM says that USDA should:

  • Fix the meal requirements to promote eating more fruits and vegetables,  whole grains, and foods that are lower in fat, sugar, and salt.
  • Offer training and technical assistance to providers.
  • Review and update the Meal Requirements to maintain consistency with current dietary guidance.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation, the non-profit educational arm of the fruit and vegetables industries, recently issued its 2010 State of the Plate Report.  The major findings:

  • Only 6% of individuals achieve their recommended target for vegetables; 8% achieve their recommended target for fruit in an average day.
  • Vegetable achievement levels (vs. targeted levels) follow a standard bell-shaped curve, with half of individuals consuming between 40-70% of their target. The picture is less favorable for fruit, however, as two-thirds don’t even consume half of their recommended number of cups of fruit.
  • Children under the age of 12 and females 55 and older are most likely to achieve their fruit target. Males ages 55 and older, teens, and children under the age of 6 are most likely to achieve their vegetable target.The average person consumes 1.8 cups of fruits and vegetables per day or about 660 cups annually. Vegetables account for 60% of this average, while fruit represents 40%.
  • Per capita fruit and vegetable consumption (in cups) has remained fairly stable overall during the past 5 years….Berries, apple juice, and bananas have all shown growth since 2004.
  • Several groups have increased their fruit consumption by at least 5% since 2004. These include children ages 2-12, males 18-34, and females 18-54.
  • Older adults are eating fewer fruits and vegetables compared to just 5 years ago. Men and women aged 65 and over have decreased their intake nearly 10% vs. 2004 levels.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation’s 2010 GAP Analysis,  correlates the gap between consumption and recommendations to the ways in which USDA funding priorities ignore fruits and vegetables.  The report is hard to read and goes on and on, but its thrust is understandable.

The Foundation wants the USDA to spend a greater proportion of its dollars on fruits and vegetables, rather than on meat and dairy foods. USDA’s current allocations for subsidies look like this:

  • Meat: 54.7%
  • Grains (which mostly go to feed animals): 18.0%
  • Dairy (non-butter): 11.4%
  • Fats and oils: 6.2%
  • Fruits and vegetables: 9.8%

These reports aim to align agricultural policy with health policy, and about time too.

  • Caroline Yourcheck

    The three new reports, on fruit and vegetable consumption, are welcome and exciting news!! It’s one more step in the right direction.

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  • CK

    Good news. I am wondering how The Sugar Association will react to this – as the last IOM report to address sugar led to their press release titled: “Institute of Medicine: No Scientific Justification for Sugar Intake Limits.”

  • Kristin

    Ok, maybe I’m missing something here, but how exactly is this news? Eat more fruits and vegetables…knew that. Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables…knew that too. Perhaps these studies should focus on HOW to increase consumption of things we know are good for us – HOW to update guidelines – WHAT the new proportion of USDA dollars should look like.

    Enough is enough with diagnosis. We need action.

  • Why do recommendations of fruits and vegetables always come with a denuncation of fat? Unlike the carbs in fruits and vegetables, fat, along with protein, is an essential macronutrient. Fat ads flavor, succulence and satiety to food and, in the case of school meals, badly needed calories that currently are being supplied with sugar (include flavored milks and fruits juices), an anti-nutrient that is directly linked to the current epidemic of obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Kids (and adults) can not only tolerate but thrive on large amounts of fat in the diet. The question isn’t how much, but what kind of fats we’re eating.

  • Anthro

    @Ed Bruske

    Sorry, Mr. Bruske, but overall fat calories (from ANY source) should not exceed a certain percentage of the diet–about 30% on average, I believe, and less for certain groups (including older women trying to maintain a healthy weight). One tablespoon of oil (no matter what kind) contains about 120 calories. Sorry, but olive oil will make you just as fat as any less healthy fat source. I mostly use olive oil, but I limit it strictly. I eat walnuts for their health benefits, but only in small quantities. I put one Tbs of butter on my small bowl of popcorn once a week or so, but only because I don’t eat any other animal fat. Of course, how much fat one eats should be determined by the total calories he or she can consume without gaining weight, so maybe you can have more butter on your popcorn, but there will still be limits.

    There is some “fat is good for you” fad going around, but it is just that–a diet fad, not anything based in fact.

  • Pete

    @ Ed – I’m with you.

    @ Anthro – I have so much empirical evidence that contradicts what you just said. I have gone from taking in 2200 calories on a low-fat diet, to 3000+ on a low carb diet and lost weight. Not just lost weight, but all fat. I have seen so many others do the same. It’s not a fad, it’s progress.

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  • Renee

    Interesting comments. While I’m not sure adults should be eating unlimited amounts of fat (and that may not be what Ed and Pete really mean), I do think that the U.S. has gone way overboard in the “no fat” direction. Fat is not an evil.

    I think this is especially true for kids. Of course, along with encouraging a nice balance of fats and proteins, we need to keep physical activity levels high. I think this is where adults have a problem –my daughter is physically active all day, and I try hard to get enough fat and protein into her. Me, on the other hand . . . 🙂 But public institutions (like schools) are creating an environment where kids are getting less and less physical activity and that’s a problem that needs to be solved along with nutrition.

    But I really agree with Ed that if the foods we ate contained more fats, we’d probably be eating less of them because they would be more satisfying. If the food you eat never really satisfies you, then you keep reaching for more.

  • Saturated fat sure has gotten a bum rap…. since the saturated fat theory of heart disease was fabricated some 60 years ago or so, consumption of saturated fat has drastically declined. At the same time, heart disease numbers have gone from non-existent to being the leading cause of death. Hello?

  • A few quick and easy recommendations for HOW to get more fruits and vegetables in to the diet-Make a smoothie and get 2-3 servings (my typical smoothie has juice, 2-3 types of frozen or fresh fruit, some type of protein, and some fat-nuts or flax); add a combo of sauteed veggies to scrambled eggs; serve apples or other fruit with nut butter or some good cheese; add lettuce/spinach/tomato/carrots/onions/olives/etc to sandwiches; make a veggie soup. Parents- If you have children, never force them to eat anything, but always encourage and offer fruits and vegetables with every meal and snack, and be a positive role model by eating them yourself.

  • Anthro

    Oh dear, I don’t think those who disagree with me read what I said! I did not say don’t eat fat–just reminding people that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie and that fat is dense with calories.

    Anecdote is not sufficient to denote “progress” and there is absolutely no scientific proof that weight is lost eating high levels of fat as opposed to other nutrients if the calories remain the same, or worse, increase.

    Please cite something besides your undocumented personal experience.

    Please read Marion’s books, I beg you.

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  • Very interesting post in terms of learning about where the dollars go for USDA subsidies. If fruit and vegetable consumption were inexpensive and easy, then more people would achieve the recommended consumption.

  • Daniel K Ithaca, NY

    Nearly 85% for animal products and animal feed. <10% for healthy vegetables and fruits. Why do we tolerate this scheme?

    Please write to your Senators and to your Representative and tell them we need to support, reasonably, healthy foods for people and end this Corporate Welfare promoting corn & soy growth for factory farms. This current scheme is not doing us tax-payers, our environment or our bodies and good.

    quick links to Find your Senators/Rep:

    –especially important to contact your law-maker if they are on the Agricultural Committees lists:

    One of my Senators is on the Ag Committee:
    Kirsten Gillibrand, New York I'll be sending another message out to her!
    Thanks, other concerned citizens for letting your lawmakers know what is really important.

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  • Pete

    Anthro –

    If i didn’t read Marion’s books I wouldn’t be here. So you are telling me I should ignore what I have seen right in front of my eyes because no one has done a study on it yet? If you read Marion’s books then you should know that studies are almost always influenced by their benefactor. A calorie is a calorie? Really? So where does “calorie in” start? In the mouth? In the gut? the small intestine? Ever see “undigested corn”? How do those calories enter the equation? Or how about undigested fat? (you know if you eat fat with the right combination of fiber, a percentage will go unabsorbed.) Can the body absorb ever single calorie it takes in? What if your stomach acid is low? Oh wait, what if you’re on hormone or steroid therapy? There are so many variables in the energy equation that “a calorie is a calorie” is mere wishful thinking.

    I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. I know for a fact how my body responds, as well as the 15 some odd people that have done the same., I too was skeptical eating 6 whole eggs for breakfast and a tbsp of macadamia nut oil with every meal. I too thought it defied established theory. But there is no doubt that it worked. A sustainable diet for a lifetime, probably not, but it completely flies in the face of the calorie is a calorie theory.

    That not withstanding, FAT satiates. Carbohydrates elevate blood sugar. One of these things increases your appetite and the other dulls it. The ARE studies ( search for them) showing that people eating fat and protein for breakfast consume less calories over the course of the rest of the day than those that ate a carb load like oatmeal and cereal. So you are likely to consume LESS overall calories if you aren’t always hungry.

    But back to the notion that you need a “Study” as evidence of anything… I just can’t understand this. It doesn’t matter to me an iota if you believe MY anecdotal evidence. I invite you to see it for yourself.

    Oh I just thought of another example… I recently ADDED almost 200 calories a day of fish oil to my diet (real fish oil, not pills) and 6grams of carnatine. This is in addition to my current caloric intake. No other changes. Two weeks later and my weight is down 1.5lbs (and currently I am not trying to lose weight). Oh! Also, at one point I added apple cider vinegar to my diet (2tbsp with every meal) and this too aided in weight loss. Both of these things do nothing to increase your BMR. They do however help in determining how your body digests and utilizes certain nutrients.

    By all means do the research. But nothing compares to experience.

    Just to be clear, I am not saying that my high protein, low carb diet will be healthy in the long run. I don’t have hard evidence of that. I am saying 2 things: 1) it works for me right now and 2) a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to the human body.

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  • Kelly

    Interesting post, thanks. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on so called ‘Green’ supplements that advertise getting 6 or more servings of fruits and vegetables in a powder form. Certainly they shouldn’t replace whole foods, but interested in your thoughts or research on efficacy as a supplement?

  • MIT student

    I have had the same exact experience as Pete. Anthro- I know the conventional wisdom still says “Calories in=Calories out,” but the way our body processes food varies greatly by the food composition. I ate according to the food pyramid for 10 years and did regular strength and aerobic exercise, and ended up slightly overweight. For the last six months I increased my protein and fat intake and stopped eating grains, and have lost 15 pounds. I keep track of my calories, and I probably take in a good 200-300 more calories a day than I did before. And my cholesterol went from good to great.

    Yes, this is anecdote and I look forward to being able to point to well-designed studies. I hope we can get some good studies on a high-protein, high-fat, high-vegetable diet. I haven’t seen a study that isolates fat intake from grain intake so it seems disingenuous to blame fat instead of carbs for our health problems.

    Finally, why is there a target for both fruit and vegetable intake? If I eat double the recommended vegetable servings, do I really need to eat fruit? I hope an updated policy takes into account that eating spinach is better for you than eating grapes.

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  • Eric Yang

    When it comes to eating healthy, its a combination of all the nutrition such as fats, protein and carbs. Eating fruits and vegetable is a must, but if eating too much, it will has a downfall to it too. Everything that you eat will make you fat if you over eat it. Also, those are low in calories so you will stuff more fruits and vegetable into your mouth and not realize that it contains sugars and carbs that are fast absorbing for energy. with the energy that is not being use, it will turn into fats.