Americans Not Eating Enough Vegetables

Mothers’ pleas of, “Eat your vegetables,” didn’t work. The government’s simple “Five a day” message didn’t work.

Now, a new study shows the new food pyramids aren’t working either.

A new USDA study showed, on average, less than half of all Americans ate the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables in 1999-2000.

Researchers estimate the percentage who met the new MyPyramid recommendations ranged from a low of 0.7 percent of boys aged 14 to 18, whose recommended combined amount of fruits and vegetables is five cups, to a high of 48 percent among children aged 2 to 3, whose combined recommendation is two cups.

Among mature women aged 51 to 70, less than one in five met their current daily recommendation, and fewer than 11 percent of all other age groups met their MyPyramid fruit and vegetable recommendations.

“Americans need to consume more fruits and vegetables, especially dark green and orange vegetables and legumes,” write researcher Patricia Guenther, PhD, RD, of the USDA, and her colleagues in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

"Nutrition and other health care professionals must help consumers realize that for everyone over age 3 years, the new recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake are greater, and in many cases much greater, than the familiar five servings per day," write the researchers.

How to Keep Your Veggies Vitamin-Packed

Compliance Used to Be Easier

In the study, researchers surveyed more than 8,000 Americans by phone about their eating habits.

Overall, they found that 40 percent of Americans ate the previously recommended average of five 1/2 cup servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Those complying with the old “five or more” servings recommendation ranged from a low of 10 percent for girls aged 4 to 8, to a high of 60 percent among men aged 51 to 70.

Vitamin Essentials As We Get Older

New Recommendations More Specific

But the latest MyPyramid guidelines from the federal government recommend two to six and a half cups a day of fruits and vegetables, depending on a person’s age, gender, and energy needs.

The MyPyramid recommendations are a revision of the original Food Guide Pyramid and call for greater amounts of fruits and vegetables.

The new recommendations also include more specific information about types of vegetables, such as dark green and orange vegetables and legumes, to ensure that recommended dietary allowances for nutrients found in greater amounts in these vegetables are met.

'Superfoods' Everyone Needs

What Are We Eating?

Other findings of the study include:

--The average American eats 4.7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

--Average consumption of fruits, total vegetables, and all vegetables except starchy vegetables (which include white potatoes, corn, and peas) is far below recommended amounts.

--Americans are eating too many starchy vegetables. Researchers found the average number of servings was above recommended levels for 12 of the 15 age and sex groups studies.

--Five out of six of the servings of starchy vegetables are white potatoes.

--On average, the number of servings of dark green and orange vegetables and legumes is less than a third of the recommended amounts.

--The average number of servings of other vegetables is about 1/4 to 3/4 the recommended amounts.

Learn About the New Food Pyramid

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Guenther, P. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, September 2006; vol 106. News release, American Dietetic Association.