Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
After hearing the 5 A Day goal for fruit and vegetable consumption for the last 15 years, only 40 percent of Americans meet the goal, according to new analysis from the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, updated nutrient recommendations since the 5 A Day goal was formulated mean that even many adults who reach that mark aren’t really getting enough. Recommendations now call for eating more produce and including a broader selection of high-nutrient vegetables.
The 5 A Day program began in 1991 to help people remember the fruit and vegetable recommended minimum from the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Eating more vegetables and fruits was identified as an important step to help prevent cancer and heart disease. Average consumption at that time was just over three servings a day. The goal was that by 2010, 75 percent of Americans would be eating five or more vegetable and fruits servings daily.
This new report analyzes results from more than 8,000 participants in one of the most recent national dietary surveys. The 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimates the proportion of the population eating various amounts of fruits and vegetables. It shows that 40 percent of the overall population met the famous target of five servings a day of fruits and vegetables. In studies like this, one cup of raw leafy vegetables, one-fourth cup of dried fruit, six ounces of juice, or a half-cup of other raw or cooked vegetable or fruit, is counted as one serving. The most recent extension of this data, including dietary information through 2002, shows little change, with average consumption of 4.6 servings a day.
Research released since creation of the 5 A Day target prompted the Institute of Medicine to increase recommended amounts of potassium and dietary fiber. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported that our eating habits are considerably below the intake linked with optimal health. No more than 17 percent of Americans of any age meet current recommendations for potassium and fiber. The committee also noted that low intake of vitamins A and C, and magnesium tends to reflect lack of fruits and vegetables.
The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for 7 to 10 fruit and vegetable servings for sedentary adults. From 8 to 13 servings are appropriate for those with higher calorie needs, based on age, gender and activity level.
The guidelines advisory committee noted that even meeting the recommendations for increased consumption would not correct the low intake of ‘shortfall’ nutrients if we don’t also change the types of vegetables we eat. The vegetables most Americans choose are not high in the nutrients most lacking in our diets, such as vitamins A and C, potassium, and magnesium. The committee therefore set target amounts of specific types of vegetables. Targets are the equivalent of 4 to 6 servings weekly of dark green vegetables (such as broccoli, romaine and spinach), 3 to 5 servings weekly of orange vegetables (including carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash), and 5 to 7 servings weekly of legumes (beans like kidney and garbanzo, plus lentils, split peas and soybeans). Currently, our consumption of each of the three groups is less than a third of recommended amounts.
This new report reminds us that we need a fresh mindset. The revised targets are reachable, but call for a real change, making a variety of vegetables and fruits a substantial part of each meal.