Vegetables are ironically the least consumed healthy food group in America, but the most recommended. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025in the same way My plate advice, recommends adults on a 2,000-calorie diet eat a minimum of 2½ cups of vegetables a day. Unfortunately, 90% of us do not apply this recommendation. One serving is two cups of raw leafy greens or just a cup of any other fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables.
Nutrition experts suspect that two main reasons vegetables can be under-consumed are because of taste and convenience. When considering all produce, vegetables tend to taste bitter compared to the sweetness of fruits. Vegetables are generally not eaten on their own, but rather enjoyed after they have been cooked or prepared, which increases the time between the fridge, pantry or freezer and the plate. Plus, vegetables are less common in restaurants: they’re rarely found on fast-food menus, and they’re not a top priority for casual dining. This creates a small, but significant, obstacle to obtaining a vegetable consumption.
So why should you strive to overcome these little hurdles to eat more vegetables? Research indicates that various vegetables provide advanced protection against chronic disease, so it is essential that you have it in your diet. This protective effect against disease is amplified when we choose a variety of vegetables every day that include a diverse assortment of colors and types. This has been repeatedly demonstrated by a combination of systematic reviews, meta-analyses, observational studies and interventional studies.
Read on for some major chronic diseases that could be prevented, delayed, or controlled with adequate vegetable intake, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss The best juice to drink every day, according to science.
Heart disease remains the 1st cause of death in the United Statesbased on 2019 data. A 2018 meta-analysis of 69 prospective studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher dietary intake and/or blood levels of vitamin C, carotenoids, and alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) were associated with reduced cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality all combined causes. These nutrients and compounds are normally more abundant with adequate plant intake. Vegetables are also generally good sources of potassium, which is linked to better blood pressure control.
Well-respected cancer organizations like the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) advocate for increased vegetable consumption. The AICR has developed a “New American Plate” concept that encourages a plant-based approach to eating, including two-thirds of each meal as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. The ACS credits vegetables for may reduce the risk of cancer thanks to the content of vitamins, minerals and fibers, as well as the high water and low calorie content of vegetables which helps to weight management efforts.
In 2019, 1.4 million new cases of diabetes have been diagnosed, and it is expected that 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with diabetes in 2022. It is essential to understand what eating habits could help stop this momentum. A 2016 meta-analysis in the Diabetes Survey Journal included a review of 23 items and found a higher consumption of green leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables, cruciferous vegetables or their fiber was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. A promising nutritional message for people with diabetes is to eat a consistent amount of carbohydrates, consume generous amounts of fiber, regularly include fruits and vegetables in diet and avoid excess added sugar.
Another meta-analysis, this time presented in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology in 2019 identified 18 prospective cohort studies and found that a healthy diet, including diets that encouraged high vegetable intake, was associated with a lower incidence of chronic kidney disease. The National Kidney Foundation urges higher intakes of plant-based foods such as vegetables to help prevent and slow the progression of chronic kidney disease.
Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD
Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD, is a nationally recognized dietitian. Read more