It’s a simple fact that eating fruits and vegetables promotes good health in many ways. And yet Americans are falling far short of the daily intakes recommended by the government in its MyPlate guidelines—1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day. Only 13 percent of us eat that much fruit and 9 percent that much vegetables, according to the most recent data from the CDC. Californians are most likely to meet the recommendations (still, fewer than one in five of them reach these goals). These numbers are even lower than previous estimates.
Countless studies have linked fruit and vegetable consumption with a reduced risk of everything from heart disease, strokes, and diabetes to some cancers, cataracts, and obesity. Such benefits are attributed to produce’s vitamins (notably C), minerals (notably potassium), fiber, and many other potentially beneficial plant chemicals. If you need more encouragement to up your intake, here are two of the latest studies, both from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in vitamin C, may reduce the risk of cancers of the head and neck, the seventh most common types of cancer. In a large 20-year Dutch study, people who consumed the most dietary vitamin C, which comes almost exclusively from produce, were 60 percent less likely to develop head and neck cancers, compared to those consuming the least. (The high-C group averaged 150 milligrams of the vitamin a day, the amount in a little more than a cup of orange juice or 4 ounces of red bell pepper.) Vitamin C supplements did not decrease the risk, nor did vitamin E, beta carotene, or other carotenoids.
- Produce may help prevent heart disease and premature death. In a large Danish study lasting 10 to 20 years, people who ate fruits and vegetables at least twice a day were 13 percent less likely to have a heart attack and 20 percent less likely to die prematurely than those who rarely ate produce.
See also: The Benefits of Colorful Produce.