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Publication #FCS8926

Fruits and Vegetables1

Jamie C. Stolarz, Tiffany Stodtko, and Karla P. Shelnutt2

Our parents always told us to eat more fruits and vegetables. It is still good advice. Eating fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet. However, most adults and children do not eat enough of these nutritious foods.

This publication highlights the nutrient content and health benefits of fruits and vegetables. It also includes the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables, and tips on purchasing and eating more of these foods.

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Health Benefits and Nutrients

Fruits and vegetables provide our bodies with essential nutrients needed for health and maintenance. They are cholesterol free and most are low in fat. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and are nature’s original fast foods because they are great to eat on the go. Read the following sections to see why fruits and vegetables are so great for our bodies!

Fiber

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber. Fiber fills you up, helps maintain bowel health, and may help lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Fiber also helps to control blood sugar levels and decreases your risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Eating more foods that contain fiber is important because most of us do not consume enough fiber. The average fiber intake in the United States is only half of the daily recommended amount (Clemens et al., 2012). Table 1 lists the daily amount of fiber recommended for different age and gender groups.

Weight Control

Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories. Additionally, the fiber in fruits and vegetables fills and helps control appetite. Therefore, including fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet can help you feel more satisfied after meals, which could be helpful in lowering calorie intake and maintaining a healthy weight or possibly losing weight. As you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, make sure to decrease your intake of less nutritious higher calorie foods.

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Vitamins and Minerals

In addition to fiber, fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals. They are important sources of vitamin C, folate, beta carotene, potassium, and magnesium. Some fruits and vegetables have more of these nutrients than others, so eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is important.

Vitamin C plays many roles in your body’s health. It’s important in tissue growth and repair, tooth and gum health, wound healing, and iron absorption (USDA, 2013a).

Folate is a B vitamin found in some fruits and vegetables. It is required to make red blood cells. It’s especially important to consume enough folate if you are a female of childbearing age. This is because getting enough folate before pregnancy and during the first month of pregnancy decreases the risk that a mother will have a child with certain birth defects (USDA, 2013b).

Vegetables are an important source of beta carotene, which becomes vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps keep your eyes and skin healthy and protects against infection (USDA, 2013b).

Potassium is a mineral that helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure. This mineral may also reduce bone loss and decrease your risk for kidney stones (USDA, 2013a).

Fruits and vegetables also provide your body with magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral used by your cells for many important functions, including energy production and muscle movement (USDA, 2013a).

In addition to vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals, which are important for health. That’s why it’s important to eat whole fruits and vegetables and not just take vitamin and mineral supplements to meet your nutrient needs (Liu, 2003).

Health

People who eat more fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet have a decreased risk for many chronic diseases, such as certain types of cancer, heart diseases, and type 2 diabetes, compared to those who only consume a small amount (Boeing et al., 2012).

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Recommendations

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables provides your body with many different nutrients.

The recommended amount of fruits and vegetables you need depends on your age, sex, and level of physical activity. Refer to the following links for the recommended daily amounts of fruits or vegetables:

Fruit

Fruit can be purchased fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or as 100% fruit juice. Eating the whole fruit, instead of drinking fruit juice, is recommended because the whole fruit contains fiber, and many fruit juices tend to have added sugars. Fruit recommendations are given in cups. Most adults are recommended to eat about two cups of fruit per day. The daily recommendation for children is one to two cups of fruit depending on the child’s age and sex. A cup of fruit is equal to one cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, one cup of 100% fruit juice, or a one-half cup of dried fruit.

Some examples of one cup of fruit are one small apple, one large banana, one large orange, one large peach, and eight large strawberries.

Check out the following link to see what other foods are equal to one cup of fruit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/fruits_counts_table.html.

Vegetables

Like fruits, vegetables can be purchased fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or as low-sodium vegetable juice. Vegetable recommendations are also given in cups. The general recommendation for adults is two and a half cups of vegetables per day for women and three cups for men. About one to three cups of vegetables per day are recommended for children depending on the child’s age and sex. One cup of vegetables is equal to one cup of raw or cooked vegetables, one cup of 100% vegetable juice, or two cups of raw, leafy greens.

Check out the following link to see what other foods are equal to one cup of vegetables: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables_counts_table.html.

Another important recommendation is to eat vegetables from each of the five vegetable subgroups over the course of a week.

  • Dark green vegetables

  • Red and orange vegetables

  • Dry beans and peas

  • Starchy vegetables

  • Other vegetables

Examples of foods from the vegetable subgroups are listed in Table 2.

Eating from each of the subgroups is important because the nutrient contents of the groups vary. You don’t need to eat vegetables from all the subgroups every day, but you should aim to eat from all the subgroups over the course of a week.

Tips

Money-Saving Tips

Eating fruits and vegetables does not have to be expensive. Here are some tips to make your purchases cost-effective:

  • When purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, choose ones in season. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are often less expensive and may taste better than fruits and vegetables not in season.

  • Shop locally. Check out your local farmers markets for potential bargains on locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Be a “soup-er” chef. Use extra veggies in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to make a tasty soup.

  • Increase the shelf life of your fruits and vegetables. Check for frozen fruits and vegetables in the freezer aisle of your grocery store. You can also wash and freeze fresh fruit. Fresh vegetables can be cooked and frozen, too.

  • Store your fruits and vegetables properly so that they do not spoil as quickly.

Tips for Eating More Fruits and Vegetables

Eating more fruits and vegetables is fun and easy. Try some of these tips to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet:

  • Pack fruit such as an apple, orange, or dried fruit in your purse or backpack.

  • Top your pizza with vegetables such as broccoli, bell peppers, onions, spinach, and mushrooms.

  • Load your sandwich with vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, and mushrooms.

  • Add fruit to your breakfast. Fruits such as bananas and berries go great on cereal, oatmeal, bagels, English muffins, waffles, and pancakes.

  • Pack your rice with nutrients by adding vegetables or dried fruit to it.

  • Give your pasta some pizzazz by adding zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli.

  • Let vegetables steal the spotlight at dinner. Fill half of your plate with a variety of colorful vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beans, or collard greens.

  • Dip raw vegetables in low-fat dip for a crunchy snack.

Purchasing Tips

  • Purchase low-sodium, canned vegetables, or rinse canned vegetables with water to reduce the sodium content.

  • Look for dried fruits without added sugar by reading the list of ingredients. Some fruits that may not have added sugar are raisins, prunes, and apricots.

  • When purchasing canned fruit, choose fruits in water, fruit juice, or light syrup instead of heavy syrup.

Food Safety

Properly preparing and storing fruits and vegetables can help prevent foodborne illness and save time and money.

Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat in the shopping cart to prevent potential cross-contamination. These foods should also be separated during food storage and preparation.

Washing fresh fruits and vegetables is important because it reduces pathogens that may be on them (Food and Drug Administration, 2011). These foods should be washed right before cooking or eating. However, pre-washed, ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables can be used without washing.

If a fruit or vegetable is washed, and it’s not going to be cooked or eaten immediately, it should be thoroughly dried. A good way to wash fresh fruits and vegetables is to remove any outer leaves, wash under running water, scrub with a clean brush or hands, and dry using a clean towel (Food and Drug Administration, 2011). For more information about food safety, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_series_food_safety to view more articles in the “Food Safety” series.

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For More Information

For more information about fruits and vegetables, contact one of the following reliable sources in your county:

  • UF/IFAS Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) educator (look in the blue pages of your telephone book). UF/IFAS Extension offices are listed online at http://solutionsforyourlife.com/map.

  • The WIC registered dietitian (RD) at your local county health department (also in the blue pages of your telephone book).

  • For referral to a registered dietitian (RD) in your area, you can call the Florida Dietetic Association at (850) 386-8850 or check out the FDA website at http://www.eatrightflorida.org.

Recommended Websites

References

Boeing, H., Bechthold, A., Bub, A., Ellinger, S., Haller, D., Kroke, A., Leschik-Bonnet, E., Muller, M., Oberritter, H., Schulze, M., Stehle, P., & Watzl, B. (2012). Critical review: Vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases. European Journal of Nutrition 51(6), 637–663.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Heart disease facts. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Clemens, R., Kranz, S., Mobley, A. R., Nicklas, T., Pat Raimondi, M., Rodriguez, J. C., Slavin, J. L., & Warshaw, H. (2012). Filling America’s fiber intake gap: Summary of a roundtable to probe realistic solutions with a focus on grain-based foods. The Journal of Nutrition 142(7), 1390S–1401S.

Food and Drug Administration. (2011). 7 tips for cleaning fruits, vegetables. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm256215.htm

Liu, R. H. (2003). Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(3), 517S–520S.

Mayo Clinic. (2012). Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fiber/NU00033

USDA: Choose MyPlate. (2013a). Health benefits and nutrients in fruits. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/fruits-why.html

USDA: Choose MyPlate. (2013b). Health benefits and nutrients in vegetables. Retrieved from http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-why.html

USDA. (2013c). DRI tables. Retrieved from http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/dietary-guidance/dietary-reference-intakes/dri-tables

Tables

Table 1. 

Adequate intake for total fiber (in grams) by age and gender

 

Age (years)

 

1-3

4-8

9-13

14-18

19-50

>50

Males

19

25

31

38

38

30

Females

19

25

26

26

25

21

Source: Table adapted from the Dietary Reference Intake: Micronutrients, 2010.

Table 2. 

Vegetables

Dark Green

Red and Orange

Dry Beans and Peas

Starchy

Other

Broccoli

Carrots

Black beans

Corn

Asparagus

Collard greens

Tomatoes

Chickpeas

Green peas

Eggplant

Romaine lettuce

Winter

squash

Lentils

Lima beans

Green beans

Spinach

Sweet potatoes

Soy beans

Potatoes

Onions

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8926, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: February 2010. Latest revision: October 2013. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Jamie C. Stolarz, BS, former dietetic intern, Tiffany Stodtko, BS, dietetic intern, Master of Science-Dietetic Internship Program, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; and Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.