Fruits and Veggies, More Matters (cont.)

It's also a message that dovetails with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines and the individualized "My Pyramid" that replaced the old Food Guide Pyramid. To help consumers better understand the recommendations, advice for produce intake is now given in cups instead of servings, and is tailored to age, gender, and activity level.

"The new pyramid recommends fruits and vegetables in cups instead of servings because it is easier to figure out how much you need," says Ward.

For example, according to, a 25-year-old woman who gets 30 to 60 minutes of activity each day needs 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily. One cup of fruit is equivalent to 1 cup of cut-up fruit; one small apple, a medium pear, or a large peach; 1/2 cup dried fruit; or 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice. One cup of vegetables equals 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of leafy greens.

The Power of Produce

There's plenty of scientific evidence to document the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are brimming with disease-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, complex carbohydrates, and protein. Not only that, but they're naturally low in sodium and calories, cholesterol-free and virtually fat-free.

"A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is your best defense against obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and other chronic diseases," says Ward.

It's important to eat a rainbow of colored fruits and vegetables every day, Ward says. The pigments in fruit and veggies act as antioxidants -- helping to rid your body of "free radicals," that can damage cells.

And with two-thirds of American adults overweight, the weight-control benefits of fruits and veggies are especially important. Fruits and vegetables contain plenty of fiber and water to help you feel full, and thus prevent overeating. Substituting fruits and vegetables for "empty calorie" foods that offer little nutritional value can really make a difference in your weight, says Pivonka.

Beyond that, she says, fruits and vegetables can simply help you feel better.

"In our consumer research, we found that people who ate lots of fruits and vegetables had more energy and felt better," says Pivonka.

Originally published July 21, 2006.
Medically updated March 2007.

SOURCES: Produce for Better Health Foundation website. Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author, The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president and CEO, Produce for Better Health Foundation.

© 2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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