Fruits and veggies are best: What happens if nobody eats them?
Most people understand that fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone to a healthy diet yet the overwhelming majority of the population falls short of the recommended 5+ servings per day. Coming off the heels of a recent report that most children eat a serving of fruit daily, the CDC released new trend data on fruit consumption among children between 2003-2004 and 2009-2010. The result: fruit intake among children increased from 0.55 to 0.62 cup equivalents (aka, servings) per 1000 calories consumed (abbreviated as “CEPC”). This 0.07 CEPC change translates to an increased intake equivalent to 7% of a small apple per 1000 calories consumed. This is still far below the national target of 0.9 CEPC fruit per day, which is only being met by 2-5 year old children. While there was a modest change in fruit consumption, no changes in vegetable consumption were observed over between the 2003-2010 period, and no group of children is meeting the target of 1.1 CEPC of veggies per day.
Make no mistake, eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health. Harvard researchers recently reported that eating up to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables was associated with a significantly lower risk of all-cause mortality. The authors go on to say that the mechanism behind this protection is likely due to the presence of antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C, carotenoids, and flavonoids which have important functional roles in the body.
The lack of fruit and vegetable intake has a clear impact on the dietary intake of nutrients like vitamins A and C in children. If you only considered the effect of food’s intrinsic nutrients, 30-60% of teens and adolescents fail to meet dietary recommendations for vitamin C, while nearly 90% fail to meet dietary recommendations for vitamin A. Thanks to fortification and supplementation, however, the prevalence of nutrient insufficiency among children decreases dramatically.
Everyone, including myself, will say without reservation that fruits and vegetables are the best way to get your nutrients. However, we have to be a bit pragmatic and recognize that kids (and adults, for that matter) simply don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables to meet their micronutrient needs. We should to be a little more “nutrition agnostic”, and be open to tools like dietary supplements and food fortification to improve our nutrient intakes. While children (and parents!) should absolutely work to improve their diets and increase their fruit and veggie consumption, fortified foods and dietary supplements are simple and effective options to fill nutrient gaps and support their health.
Kim SA, Moore LV, Galuska D, et al. Vital signs : fruit and vegetable intake among children – United States, 2003-2010. MMWR 2014; 63 (early release); 1-6.
Berner LA, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer JT. Fortified foods are major contributors to nutrient intakes in diets of US children and adolescents. J Acad Nutr Diet 2014; 114(7): 1009-1022.
Fulgoni VL 3rd, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer J. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? J Nutr 2011; 141(10): 1847-1854.
Wang X, Oyuang Y, Liu J, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ 2014;349:g4490