My goal every day is to get 10 servings of vegetables.
I know – that sounds insane, right? Especially if, like 87% of Americans, you aren’t meeting the government recommended 5 a day for vegetables and fruits.
When I began studying nutrition over 25 years ago, it was to justify my position as a vegetarian to concerned family members. It was the first time the concept of ‘food as medicine’ had ever been presented to me. I was blown away that this was not common knowledge, not discussed, and that so much suffering (both animal and human) could be avoided.
While I am no longer a vegetarian I have never wavered from my interest in how we can use food to prevent, mitigate, and recover from disease. Food is still the most potent medicine we have available to us, and yet it is still the most overlooked for much of the population. Whether or not one is a vegetarian or vegan, plants remain the most potent, healing foods available to us.
Researchers who study populations are now saying that the 3-5 a day that is recommended is not enough if our goal is to be healthy and vital for the duration of our lives. They are now recommending 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. The populations who regularly consume this much are the ones who have the least risk of disease and live the healthiest into their elder years. While the industrialized nations have looked to science and technology for sustaining life, those in traditional, poorer cultures have maintained what we long for by consuming abundant produce. Once you get past the challenge of clean water, proper sewage and the immediate dangers of war, the key to a long, happy life is community and a diet rich in vegetables.
A study published in 2010 demonstrated that just 4-6 servings of produce reduced your risk of stroke by 32%! So if you get your 5 a day, as recommended by the USDA, you are doing very well! You are making a definite impact in your quality of life, and probably feel that benefit. These same researchers also looked at folks who consume 6 or more servings of produce daily. Their stroke risk was reduced by 69% over those who consumed less than 3 servings a day. There’s similar, consistent evidence for vegetables preventing 9 of the top 10 causes of death in the United States (the exception being unintentional accidents). The more produce we consume, the less chances we’ll die from Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, even pneumonia and suicide. The research is there.
None of us know how much time we have on the planet. I want as many years as possible to be vital, mobile, alert, and pain-free. The diseases that knock out most of us are expensive, chronic, and take decades to finally kill us off. Those last 15-30 years are not easy ones….and the new generation is being diagnosed with some of these diseases (like type 2 Diabetes) before they are even old enough to vote. I’d rather avoid such diseases altogether, and like my great-grandmother, remain active and engaged in my community until mere months before I pass.
Do I get 10 servings of vegetables a day? Sometimes. When I am aiming to, I reliably get between 7 and 10 servings. When I get caught up in life I get about 4-6. However, before I committed to seeking out 10 a day getting caught up in life meant I only managed 1-2 servings in a day. The difference I personally feel maintaining a minimum of 4-6 instead of 1-2 is remarkable. My clients express the same outcome. It shows up differently for different people – most of us find our digestion to be more regular and, dare I say it, delightful. Some also get the added benefit of improved moods and better energy. Some find chronic pain disappears. Others are able to come off blood pressure meds and find their blood sugar back within normal limits. One of the adventures of taking people on a journey to increase their veggies is that we don’t know what the outcome will be – only that it will be good. It’s a fun trip to take!
Regardless of whether you ascribe to a vegan, paleo, Mediterranean or even ketogenic diet, you need an abundant of produce to thrive. And nearly all dietary modalities attributed to reversing chronic disease, such as heart disease or multiple sclerosis, have their root in a diet high in produce. Vegetables provide antioxidants that protect cells from pollution as well as the wear and tear of daily life. They provide fiber to help regulate bowels and feed the beneficial bacteria that produce certain vitamins as well as help regulate the immune system, mood, and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Park, Y. (2010). Intakes of vegetables and related nutrients such as vitamin B complex, potassium, and calcium, are negatively correlated with risk of stroke in Korea. Nutrition research and practice, 4(4), 303-310.
Aune, D., Giovannucci, E., Boffetta, P., Fadnes, L. T., Keum, N., Norat, T., … & Tonstad, S. (2017). Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International journal of epidemiology, 46(3), 1029-1056.