Research has long shown that adequate fruit and vegetable consumption is correlated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases–including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. Yet, despite the benefits, only 10% of Americans consume the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day [6
]. So, what happens to your body when you don’t get enough produce? Before exploring ways to get more fruits and veggies into your diet, let’s first understand more about each group, and what science has to say about how they benefit health.
What’s the difference between fruits and vegetables?
It’s a well-known fact that fruits and vegetables are good for you, but do you know what classifies one from the other? From taste to nutrition, here’s the difference between fruits and vegetables.
By definition, fruit is the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seeds [1
]. Fruits have a sweet or tart flavor, and are most often enjoyed in juices, smoothies, snacks, desserts, and more. Some common fruits include berries, apples, bananas, grapes, pears, and oranges, as well as other mistaken vegetable options like tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, olives, zucchini, and avocados [2
A plant is considered to be a vegetable if it consists of all edible plant matter, like the roots, stems, and leaves [3
]. Vegetables tend to have a more mild or savory taste, and can be eaten alone or as part of a meal. Some common vegetables include cabbage, artichokes, mushrooms, onions, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, celery, and radishes [4
How many fruits and vegetables a day?
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s recommended to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day to help reduce the risk of chronic disease and enhance overall health [5
However, recent findings show that only 1 in 10 adults meets the recommended guidelines for fruit or vegetable consumption, with this number dropping even lower among those in poverty stricken communities or food deserts [6
How to tell if you need more produce
Not getting enough fruits and vegetables can take a toll on your body over time. Here are six warning signs that you need to include more produce in your diet.
Studies suggest that the amount of produce you put on your plate may be correlated to your overall mood.
Research has shown that B vitamins (found in leafy greens and citrus fruits), zinc (found in mushrooms, berries, and kale) and carotenoids (found in sweet potatoes, carrots, and dark leafy greens) may promote happier moods, have a positive influence on mental health, and improve optimism levels [7
Adequate fruit and vegetable consumption has also been associated with a reduced risk of blood sugar crashes, which can, in turn, result in stable moods throughout the day. For instance, berries have been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity and promote better blood sugar management, whereas quercetin and sulforaphane (compounds found in kale and broccoli, respectively) may help lower blood sugar and markers of oxidative stress [11
You’re not “regular”.
If your digestive system is out of whack, you may want to examine how many fruits and veggies you’re consuming.
Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, a nutrient that enhances satiety, slows stomach emptying, increases digestion time, and helps keep you regular [14
]. In fact, research shows that people who consume a high fiber diet (filled with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) of more than 20 g/day experience much lower rates of constipation than those who eat 10 g of fiber or less throughout the day [15
It’s recommended to consume 25-30 g of fiber/day for optimal digestive health. To put this in perspective, one serving of vegetables contains around 4 g of fiber, so if you were to consume 5 servings per day, you would be close to meeting the recommended daily amount.
Your skin looks dull.
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins that help your skin glow, such as vitamins C and E, so if you notice that your skin is looking a bit lackluster, you may want to step up your produce intake.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that plays an important role in the synthesis and maintenance of collagen, which is a protein that has been shown to improve skin texture and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles [16
]. Because vitamin C must be obtained from the diet, some manufacturers choose to include it in their products; however, you can consume adequate amounts of vitamin C naturally from produce foods like oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries and Brussels sprouts [17
Vitamin E is another important anti-inflammatory vitamin that may be beneficial in reducing UV damage to the skin [18
]. This vitamin can be found in foods like broccoli, spinach, and other green vegetables. By consuming vitamin E in tandem with vitamin C, you can enhance the effectiveness of both to help brighten your skin and lighten dark spots.
High stress levels.
Research indicates that consuming 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day can reduce inflammation and lower stress levels, thanks to the high amount of antioxidants present in these foods [19
]. Antioxidants (such as beta carotene, lutein, phycocyanin and zeaxanthin) help to reduce stress by neutralizing free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells, cause illness and accelerate the aging process [29
]. Free radicals can also trigger inflammatory responses, which may lead to oxidative stress and decreased mental health. As such, emerging evidence suggests that people who ate at least 5 servings of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables daily experienced a 10% reduction in stress levels compared to those who consumed less than 3 servings/day [21
Weakened immune system.
Western-type diets tend to contain high amounts of saturated fat, ultra-processed foods, added sugars, and salt, which can all impact health and chronic disease risk [22
]. Since this eating pattern usually includes inadequate amounts of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, it can lead to an insufficient intake of certain nutrients
(like vitamin D
, zinc, and vitamin C) which are essential to immune function [23
]. Moreover, the high intake of calories found in the Western diet can contribute to weight gain and even obesity, both of which can lower the immune system and increase the risk for chronic disease [24
You have a hard time losing weight.
If you want to lose weight but the scale isn’t budging, your produce intake might be to blame.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in fiber, which is a nutrient that enhances satiety, slows digestion, and keeps you fuller for longer. As such, it can aid in weight control, as studies show that adults who ate several servings of fiber-rich whole grains each day had a smaller change in waist size when compared to those who rarely ate whole grains [25
]. Additionally, research has found that dietary fiber intake (independent from total macronutrient and energy intake) promotes weight loss and increases the ability to stick to a calorie-restricted diet in overweight or obese adults [26
Ways to eat more fruits and vegetables
Now that you know the health benefits of consuming adequate fruits and vegetables, you may be looking for easy, attainable ways to include more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Here are some science-backed suggestions to help you out.
Fresh and frozen produce items both offer incredible health benefits, and can be beneficial for different reasons. Fresh fruits and vegetables are best when they are in season, whereas frozen options are available year round and can be more affordable. However, both options provide a plethora of vitamins and minerals, as studies have found that the antioxidant activity and levels of vitamin A, carotenoids, vitamin E, minerals and fiber are similar in both fresh and frozen produce [27
]. Ultimately, the option that’s best for you will depend on taste preferences, accessibility, seasonality, and budgetary needs.
Enhance your existing foods. One of the easiest ways to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet is to add them to what you’re already eating. A few ways to do this would be to throw some spinach into your morning smoothie, top your yogurt with fresh or frozen berries, or add extra vegetables into sauces, eggs, casseroles, and tacos.
Prepare in advance. Grab and go options are a convenient way to up your fruit and veggie intake, so the next time you come back from the store, spend a few minutes washing, cutting, and storing your produce. By having your fruits and vegetables prepped and ready to go, it can help you eat more of them simply due to the convenience and portability factor.
Have visual reminders. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” applies to many things, but it’s especially true when it comes to produce. If you keep your fruits and vegetables buried at the bottom of your fridge, it can be easy to forget about them. Instead, place them in high traffic areas around your kitchen as a visual reminder to include more in your daily diet.
Eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is correlated with a reduced risk of many chronic diseases–including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. Yet, despite the numerous benefits, only 10% of Americans consume the recommended 5 servings per day. Not consuming enough produce can wreak havoc on your mood, skin, digestive system, immune health, weight, and stress levels. You can boost your intake by choosing frozen produce, preparing options in advance, adding them to existing foods, and setting visual reminders around your kitchen.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.