& Joannie Dobbs Wednesday,
October 28, 1998
Don't forget to eat your
By now we should all be familiar with the Food Guide Pyramid food groups.
These consist of grains, fruits, vegetables, meat or protein alternatives, and milk and milk products. The peak of the pyramid relates to fats, oils, and sweets and are not really a group, but rather foods we should limit in our diets.
The food group most frequently forgotten is low in calories, contains lots of nutrients, and should definitely be considered more than diet foods.
This food group is exceptionally rich in antioxidants which are important for promoting heart health and preventing cancer; vitamins needed for energy metabolism; minerals and trace minerals needed for multiple essential functions throughout the body; dietary fiber which is important for gastrointestinal tract health; and food components, like phytoestrogens, which may play essential roles in maintaining an active lifestyle throughout life.
The forgotten food group is vegetables. The minimum recommendation for vegetables is 3 to 5 vegetables a day.
Studies show that the average vegetable consumption in America is only 2 servings of vegetables a day and that includes baked, mashed and french-fried potatoes. Less than 25 percent of Americans eat a green vegetable on any one day (Food and Nutrition News, 1995).
Skimping on vegetables may not, have identifiable short-term health problems, but the long-term health ramifications are significant. Based on research conducted around the world, your future health depends on daily investments in the consumption of vegetables and fruits.
The National Cancer Institute has cosponsored the “5 A Day- for Better health” program since 1991 that promotes eating at least 5 servings a day of vegetables and fruits combined – 3 vegetable and 2 fruit servings.
Research indicates that by following this recommendation, Americans could reduce the half million yearly deaths attributed to cancer by 165,000 lives.
Similarly, multiple studies have shown that the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits has a strong protective effect for coronary heart disease as well as stroke. These studies seem to indicate that vegetables and fruits have health benefits that add up to more than the sum of the nutrients that we know they contain.
Adding fruits to the diet seems to be easier because fruits can be consumed as fruit juices and ready-to-eat snacks. Vegetables generally need some preparation, making them less convenient. Both fruits and vegetables are important to include in our diets.
So why don't Americans eat more vegetables? Here are common excuses:
1. Eating away from home is part of a busy schedule and the places I eat offer few vegetables.
2. Vegetables require too much preparation time.
3. I didn't eat vegetables growing up and I don't really know what they are or how to fix them.
4. Vegetables cost too much.
These are reasonable excuses but they won't help prevent cancer or keep your heart and your family's hearts healthy. So here are a few suggestions to add a few vegetables a day to your diet:
Carry a commercial brand of vegetable juice or visit a juice bar. This is a great low-calorie alternative to soda.
Request a salad for lunch. Yes, even plate lunches and fast food places offer these.
Restaurants with salad bars are another way to add vitamin and mineral variety to our diets.
And you can always order vegetables “a la carte.”
People generally rank health as a high priority. The health value provided by vegetables makes the cost of vegetables very reasonable especially compared to the health benefits of most snack foods.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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