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What Does '5 Servings of Fruit and Veggies a Day' Really Mean?

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You have probably heard the advice to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Most of us have but do you really know what that means? I work in the field of obesity and weight control and I wasn't sure myself. Does it mean three veggies and two fruits? Four veggies and one fruit? Five fruits and five veggies? Which? Then what does a serving mean? It's all very confusing.

So I went out in search of answers. I found that there is not only confusion among the experts but now the guidelines have been changed by the CDC. They have a new slogan now too called "More Matters." This is replacing five a day.

We know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is important for good health and weight control. According to the CDC:

Compared to people who eat only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts -- as part of a healthy diet -- are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases. These diseases include stroke, Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and perhaps heart disease.

I talked to noted nutritionist, Rachel Beller RD, founder of the Beller Nutritional Institute, and here are the guidelines she gave me:

When it comes to getting "real protection" from eating fruits and vegetables, I prefer to go along with a more protective approach that the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends. It's not about getting five a day, it's about getting at least five a day, as a minimum requirement. I encourage my patients to aim much higher and go for seven to 10 standard servings a day. (Approximately 4-5 cups) If you think about it, a serving isn't that much. A serving would be:

• ½ cup of fruit

• 1 medium piece of fruit

• ¼ cup of dried fruit

• ½ cup (4 ounces) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice

• 1 cup of leafy vegetables

• ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables

My overall approach is to go heavier on the vegetables, (approximately 5 servings) and lighter on the fruit (approximately 2-3 servings). And fresh is always best!

Most of us don't get the recommended amount. In this report published by the CDC you can see state-specific trends in our fruit and vegetable consumption. These trends do not look good. I believe this is a large part of why our country is currently so heavy. As a food addiction therapist, I see very clearly in my clients, and myself, that when we replace the processed white sugar, white flour, high fat and high salt foods with fresh, whole foods, we eat less calories, stop compulsively overeating and lose weight. We need to make fresh fruits and vegetables a staple in our daily diets. Whole grains are lacking in our American diets as well. We need to be eating more brown rice (not white), whole grain breads and cereals, quinoa, couscous etc.

If you're confused there is now a better way to determine what you need. We are not all the same as far as our weight, age, activity level and caloric requirements. So the advice to eat five a day might be good for a 150 pound person but maybe not enough for a 225 pound person and too much for a 100 pound person. For a more accurate accounting of what you need you can try this handy calculator from the CDC's website. It allows you to put in your age, sex and activity level and will give you more of a personalized approach to your daily fruit/veggie requirements.

Be well!

If you'd like to contact Irene you can find her here.