Americans aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies. Why?

(BPT) – Most people know that fruits and vegetables are key to a healthy diet, but they may not know exactly how many, and the amounts, they should be eating daily. Some may believe they are on the right track but are surprised to learn they are underestimating the amount needed to meet nutrition recommendations.

A survey conducted by the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) confirms that Americans are largely underestimating how many fruits and vegetables they need to eat on a daily basis. Consumers surveyed estimate the daily number of recommended servings to be 3-4 servings a day, short of the actual recommended 5 servings per day defined by the World Health Organization. For consumers to work toward achieving a healthier lifestyle, accurate nutrition information must be available and accessible.

According to experts at IFPA’s Foundation for Fresh Produce’s, widespread misinformation and disinformation online and during the shopping experience contributes to Americans’ confusion over what, and how much, they are supposed to eat. Products across the marketplace can be marketed to make food and beverages appear more healthful than they are by depicting images of fruits and vegetables despite containing no or minimal amounts of them.

“Consumers constantly face an overwhelming amount of information online and in stores, whether the information is correct or not,” said Emily Holdorf, a registered dietitian at The Foundation. “When people hear conflicting messages of ‘eat this’ and ‘don’t eat that,’ they become understandably frustrated. By instead sharing a more inclusive approach to eating nutritious foods, consumers will feel empowered to choose fruits and vegetables at more meals and snacks throughout the day.”

To this end, IFPA and the Foundation are galvanizing the fresh produce industry and influential nutrition educators to help eliminate all barriers to consumption, including tackling misinformation.

“We are dedicated to finding solutions that make accurate nutrition recommendations easily accessible no matter what zip code an American resides in,” said IFPA CEO Cathy Burns. “We are exploring initiatives like providing dietary guidelines to shoppers in the store and asking the government to crack down on deceptive nutrition labeling. These are places where we can make a real impact on how consumers think about their own nutrition and ultimately achieve a positive change at kitchen tables across America.”

According to WHO, eating the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet improves overall health and reduces risk of certain diseases including cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.

Many fruits and vegetables are plentiful in soluble fiber, which can lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation.

Even the colors of fruits and vegetables play a key role in health. The variety of colors within produce are known as “phytochemicals” that have been shown to potentially reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes.

“Diet-related diseases including heart disease, diabetes and hypertension add $1.4 trillion to the nation’s debt to treat annually, yet even with more than a trillion dollars going toward treatment, these diseases are still among the leading causes of death in the U.S.,” said Burns. “Fortunately, each of these can be prevented by having a healthier diet.”

Here are three tips for getting started:

  1. Start small – Don’t bite off more than you can chew with an extremely aspirational goal. Stir fruit into cereal or yogurt, add bagged salad to pizza night, top sandwiches with extra veggies, throw greens into your favorite pasta dish. Small wins build momentum and positive habits.
  2. Make it easy – Cut and prep fruits and vegetables up right away so they are quick to grab. Keep all forms of produce on hand for low- and no-cook ways to add fruits and vegetables to the meals and snacks you already have planned. The easier it is, the more likely it will get eaten.
  3. Focus on the flavor – When something makes you feel good, you want to do it again. When something tastes good, you want to eat it again. Utilize dips, herbs, spices and juices to add flavor and enjoyment to fruits and vegetables. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring!

“There are countless eating occasions that occur throughout our days, weeks, months. Asking, ‘What fruit or veggie can I add to this?’ is a great first step to adding more, one bite at a time,” said Holdorf.