Eating fruits and vegetables is vital for good health and wellbeing. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day as part of a healthy eating pattern. But what counts as a serving? And what are the benefits of getting enough fruits and vegetables? This article will provide a comprehensive overview of what 5 servings of fruits and vegetables looks like and why it’s important.
What Counts as a Serving of Fruits and Vegetables?
According to the Dietary Guidelines, the following amounts count as 1 serving:
- 1 medium whole fruit (like an apple, banana or orange)
- 1 cup of chopped or canned fruit
- 1⁄2 cup of dried fruit (like raisins or apricots)
- 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables
- 2 cups of leafy salad greens
- 1⁄2 cup of cooked beans (like black beans or chickpeas)
- 1⁄4 cup of dried beans
- 1 cup (8oz) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice
To get a better idea of what these serving sizes look like, here are some examples:
- 1 medium apple
- 1 large banana
- 32 seedless grapes
- 1 cup of strawberries
- 1 large carrot
- 1 large baked sweet potato
- 1 cup of cooked broccoli
- 2 cups of romaine lettuce
As you can see, servings are reasonably sized portions of fruits and veggies, not huge amounts. Following these serving size guidelines makes it easier to track how much you’re eating each day.
What Counts Towards the 5 Servings?
All forms of fruits and vegetables count towards the daily 5 servings, including:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Frozen fruits and vegetables without added sugar or salt
- Canned fruits and vegetables in water or 100% juice
- Dried fruits and vegetables without added sugar
- 100% fruit and vegetable juices
There are lots of options to help you meet the 5 servings recommendation. You can mix and match different forms as well as different types of produce.
Here are some examples of how you could get 5 servings in a day:
- 1 medium banana at breakfast
- 1 cup of carrots sticks for a snack
- Big salad with 2 cups of lettuce and vegetables at lunch
- 1 cup of vegetable soup at dinner
- 1 cup of fresh strawberries for dessert
Or you could do:
- 1 cup of 100% orange juice at breakfast
- 1 medium apple as a snack
- 1 cup of cooked broccoli at lunch
- 1 cup of raw bell pepper strips with hummus as a snack
- 1 cup of blueberries after dinner
As long as you get to 5 total servings over the course of the entire day, you’ve met the recommendation.
Vegetables and Fruits Count, But What Doesn’t?
It’s important to note that not all foods made from produce count as servings. Here are some examples of what does NOT constitute a vegetable or fruit serving:
- Fruit snacks like gummies
- Vegetable chips like potato or kale chips
- Tomato paste
- Jellies, jams and fruit preserves
- Ketchup or other fruit/vegetable-based condiments
- Fruit juices that are not 100% juice
- Fried vegetables like French fries
- Vegetables in creamy sauces or gravies
- Fruit pies, cobblers or other desserts
Although these foods are made from plant-based ingredients, the added sugars, oils, and processing remove most of the nutrients. To get the full benefits, it’s best to stick with whole fruits and vegetables or versions with no added salt or sugar.
Why is it Important to Eat 5 Servings of Fruits and Veggies Daily?
Getting enough fruits and vegetables each day provides many important nutrients and health benefits. Here are some of the top reasons to aim for 5 servings:
1. Rich in Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber
Fruits and vegetables provide a wealth of vitamins, minerals and fiber that our bodies need:
- Vitamin C – Boosts immunity and wound healing. Found in citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers and broccoli.
- Vitamin A – Important for vision and cell growth. Found in sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and mangos.
- Folate – Crucial for new cell production and DNA. Found in leafy greens, asparagus and beans.
- Potassium – Regulates blood pressure. Found in bananas, potatoes, tomatoes and prunes.
- Fiber – Aids digestion and gut health. Found in fruits, vegetables and beans.
Without enough servings of produce, it can be difficult to meet daily recommended intakes for these nutrients.
2. Powerful Antioxidants
Many fruits and veggies also contain beneficial plant compounds called antioxidants:
- Beta-carotene – Found in sweet potatoes, carrots, mangos. May protect skin health.
- Lycopene– Found in tomatoes and watermelon. Associated with heart health.
- Resveratrol – Found in grapes and berries. May protect brain function.
Antioxidants help counter oxidative stress caused by free radicals and inflammation in the body. Getting a variety of produce ensures you’re getting diverse antioxidants.
3. Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases
Research shows that eating sufficient fruits and vegetables every day may help prevent many common chronic illnesses.
Some of the evidence on produce intake and disease risk includes:
- Heart disease – Those who eat more fruits and vegetables have up to a 28% lower risk of heart disease and stroke compared to those who eat the least produce.
- Cancer – Higher produce intakes are associated with decreased risks of mouth, stomach, colon, bladder and lung cancers.
- Diabetes – Each daily serving of fruits or vegetables may lower diabetes risk by 7%.
- Obesity – Increased produce intake correlates with lower BMI and body fat percentage.
The combination of beneficial vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants is likely responsible for these protective effects.
4. Weight Management
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories, yet high in nutrients. This makes them an important part of a healthy weight loss diet.
Their high fiber and water contents also promote fullness and prevent overeating. Studies show that those who eat the most produce have the lowest risk of obesity.
5. Overall Longevity
Given all their health-promoting effects, it’s no surprise that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is linked to longer lifespan.
One analysis of over 650,000 people found that eating around 5 servings of produce each day was associated with the lowest risk of mortality over the study period.
In short, fitting in at least 5 servings daily can go a long way towards optimizing your health and longevity.
Tips to Eat 5 Servings of Fruits and Veggies
Here are some helpful strategies to increase your daily fruit and vegetable consumption:
1. Add produce to every meal and snack.
Aim to include fruits or vegetables in breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. For example, add berries to oatmeal, tomatoes to sandwiches, peppers to stir fries, and apple slices with peanut butter.
2. Discover fast prep options.
Use shortcuts like pre-washed bagged produce, frozen fruits/veggies and canned beans to cut down on prep time. Canned and frozen versions are just as nutritious as fresh.
3. Try new varieties.
Mix up your usual apples and broccoli with things like kiwi, jicama sticks, acorn squash or radishes. Finding new favorites can make it more enjoyable to reach 5 servings.
4. Pair fruits and veggies with proteins or healthy fats.
The combo of produce with proteins and fats helps balance your blood sugar. Some ideas are apple with peanut butter, carrots with hummus or avocado on salads.
5. Stock up on portable options.
Keep grab-and-go fruits and veggies like bananas, snap peas, grape tomatoes and mini carrots in your fridge or bag so you always have a healthy snack available.
6. Add extra veggies into dishes.
Blend cauliflower into mashed potatoes, grate zucchini into pasta sauce or mix mushrooms into burgers. You can drastically up your veggie intake with these tricks.
7. Try different preparation methods.
Roast, sauté, grill or steam your produce instead of always eating it raw. This can add more flavor and appeal.
8. Set reminders to eat produce.
Use phone alerts or sticky notes to remind yourself to eat fruits or veggies as a snack or with each meal. This can help you form a habit.
9. Swap sugary drinks for fruit-infused water.
Rather than soda or juice, make fruity spa water with slices of citrus, berries, cucumber, pineapple or melon to help hydrate.
10. Order veggie side dishes when dining out.
Opt for steamed veggies, side salads or fresh fruit instead of fries and chips at restaurants to increase your produce portions.
Simple Meal Ideas with 5 Servings of Fruits and Veggies
Here are some meal ideas that make it easy to fit in 5 or more servings:
– 1 cup chopped fruit salad
– Oatmeal with 1⁄2 cup blueberries and 1⁄2 banana
– 2 cups spinach, 1⁄2 cup mushrooms, 1 sliced tomato, 2 eggs – omelette
– 1 cup vegetable juice
– 1 cup cubed watermelon
– Big salad with 2 cups lettuce/greens, 1⁄2 cup chickpeas, 1⁄2 cup chopped veggies (tomatoes, carrots, peppers)
– Veggie sandwich with 2 slices whole grain bread, hummus, lettuce, 1⁄4 cup sprouts, tomatoes and peppers
– Lentil soup made with onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, spinach. Served with 1 medium orange.
– Burrito bowl with 1 cup cooked beans, rice, salsa, lettuce, shredded carrots, sliced avocado
– Grilled salmon, 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts, 1 cup cooked quinoa
– Veggie pizza with 2 cups of spinach as sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, onions, broccoli
– Stir fry made with 1 cup snap peas, broccoli, peppers, carrots, served over 1 cup cooked lentils
– Chicken thighs, 1 cup mashed cauliflower, 1 cup roasted root vegetables
– 1 apple with 1 Tbsp. peanut butter
– 1⁄2 cup cottage cheese with 1 cup pineapple
– 12 whole grain crackers with 1⁄4 cup hummus and 1⁄4 cup carrot sticks
– 20 almonds and 1 cup grapes
– 1⁄4 cup trail mix mixed with 1⁄4 cup raisins
The Bottom Line
Eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily provides a wealth of nutrition to support optimal health and help reduce disease risk.
One serving is 1 medium sized piece of fruit, 1 cup of fresh produce, or 1⁄2 cup of dried fruit. This target is easily achievable when you include produce in meals, snacks and beverages throughout the day.
Aiming for a minimum of 5 servings as part of a balanced, whole foods diet is a simple way to improve your overall wellbeing and longevity. With so many health benefits, there are plenty of good reasons to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables!