Everybody knows that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is a smart health move for a variety of reasons. I recently ran across two different articles that discussed produce consumption trends and ideas, and a couple days ago a meta-analysis compared organic vs traditionally-farmed produce and the media gobbled that right up. All of these make me wonder—do the differences between the nutritional merits of fruit and vegetables really matter overall?
All produce is not created equal
I follow Yoni Freedhoff‘s blog called Weighty Matters and one of his staff RDs wrote a post entitled “Newsflash! Fruits are Not Vegetables.” I instantly knew what it was going to be about, but I clicked through to read it in its entirety anyway—just to see if I was right, of course, but also because this is something I’ve thought about a lot in my own eating life and when feeding my children (especially when they were little).
The gist of the post was that if one ate the recommended allotment of fruit and veg daily, but ate it all as fruit, one would most certainly take in far more calories than if one had consumed some or all of it as vegetables. Not a newsflash by any means (and the author certainly acknowledged that his title was tongue in cheek), but I agree with his point of view that we are fooling ourselves if we believe that nutritionally it doesn’t matter. Just because fruit and veg are grouped together in food guides does not mean they are equal (just like all grains are not equal, etc). They are not equivalent in nutrients of course, but most certainly not in calories either as he points out. Then again, even within the fruit category, nutritional differences abound. And the same can be said of vegetables (here’s where the old greens comparison of Iceberg vs Spinach or Romaine comes in). Ok, so more veg and less fruit is the answer. Not so fast.
Unadorned fruit vs doctored veggies
There is other research that shows that the people who eat more fruit tend to have a healthier weight than those who eat predominantly veggies? Surprised? I was…initially. It’s surmised that it’s because in order to make veggies more appealing, we cook them differently (fried) and/or cover them with cheese sauce or butter or otherwise compromise their nutritional merits. So at least in the weight control department this is the state of affairs. The simple answer, of course, is to learn to eat veggies in their more natural state. It doesn’t have to be raw, but it should be more simple. Give yourself and your kids a chance to learn to like the taste of the actual vegetables!
How much produce do YOU eat?
Keep track for a few days and just simply tally the servings of fruit and vegetables that you eat in the day. Making it mostly veg and a couple fruit servings is a good goal. If you’re not sure how much produce you or your kids should be eating, check out this handy fruit and veggie calculator. Sadly, the older that children get, the fewer servings of fruits and veggies they consume overall. This tells me that parents are trying to get their little ones to eat some produce (yay!) but as kids start choosing their own foods, the appeal of fruits and veggies diminishes. It also tells me that there is hope for fixing this, provided it’s done while kids are young. If they get used to eating fruit and veg at each meal it will be more natural for them to continue that habit as they get older. (I still have to sometimes remind my own two teens to include a fruit at breakfast for example, and luckily they both like salad so they often get that at school and then of course our dinner includes vegetables, too). As for grown-ups, try to find ways to work in fruits and veggies without making a big fuss over it. Here are a few ideas that everyone can benefit from:
- Always put fruit on your cereal
- Keep prepped veggies in a bag or bowl in your fridge so they are handy for snacking or adding to sandwiches, etc.
- Start dinner with a salad
- Visit your local farmer’s market weekly to be inspired and stock up—take the kids along!
- Add grated vegetables (carrots, zucchini, beets etc) to things you’re already making, such as soups, pasta sauce or casseroles/mixed dishes
- Serve vegetables or salad before the rest of the meal—when you’re hungriest
So does Fruit vs Veg matter really?
I think in this country at least, since the majority of folks don’t consume nearly the recommended amounts of fruits or vegetables (according to the CDC) it probably doesn’t matter as long as we are getting some of both. The focus should be on getting MORE produce and being less picky about what it is exactly. Aiming for 2 fruits and 3 servings of vegetables per day is the goal, but more certainly wouldn’t hurt us. Starting infants on veggies before fruits can be helpful, or mixing them together works, too. As kids get older, serving veggies in different ways (my daughter likes frozen peas and also frozen grapes, and we puree a lot of vegetables soups for a change of pace) is fun and shows that it’s ok to mix things up a bit. As for us older folks, eating seasonally and making sure to get a variety of fruits and veggies (break out of your banana habit) will do you body good by providing it with a wider array of nutrients. Oh, and lose the cheese sauce. You might realize you actually do like broccoli the way Mother Nature intended it to taste.