Fruits

How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Should You Aim to Eat Every Day?

Plus, smart ways to include more of them in your daily routine.

<p>Amax Photo / Getty Images</p>

Amax Photo / Getty Images

We’ve been told over and over again to eat more fruits and veggies for our health, but how much produce are we really talking about here? Are there official fruit and vegetable recommendations, and do they differ between men and women, kids and adults, and different lifestyles? Here’s how to figure out how many servings of fruits and vegetables you should strive to eat every day, plus smart and tasty ways to do it.

Health Benefits of Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables don’t get their positive press for nothing. These plants are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available to us, and each different variety offers a wealth of important macronutrients and micronutrients to support our health and well-being.

Macronutrients

  • Fiber: All fruits and vegetables offer some amount of fiber. As the healthiest type of carbohydrate, fiber is an extremely important nutrient for its role in supporting optimal gut, immune, metabolic, and heart health. The fiber in both fruits and veggies will be most concentrated in the skins and seeds, so be sure to consume those when appropriate (not all skins and seeds are edible!).

  • Protein: Protein is an important source of energy as well as the building block for every major structure in the body. Produce varieties aren’t the overall highest sources of protein you can find, however, several types of fruits and veggies do offer notable amounts. Legumes like bean, peas, and lentils are the most concentrated plant protein sources, while other vegetable options like broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and fruits like guava and kiwi, are also richer in this macro than other fruits. Nuts and seeds are typically categorized as a high-protein food group—and they’re technically fruits!

  • Healthy Fats: While healthy fats are harder to find in significant amounts in most fruits and vegetables, avocado, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources. These fats serve as important energy sources for the body as well as structural components for cells and support optimal heart and brain health, too.

Related: 16 Best Fruits and Vegetables For Gut Health, According to RDs

Micronutrients

  • Vitamins and Minerals: We can meet most of our vitamin and mineral needs through fruit and vegetable intake. While there are outliers to this rule, as a registered dietitian of nearly a decade, I usually assess whether an individual needs a multivitamin by their typical fruit and veggie intake. Each vitamin and mineral has its own important function, and these key micronutrients support total body health—from metabolism and cell health to bone, immune system, heart, brain, and skin health. There are few body systems that vitamins and minerals don’t positively influence.

  • Plant Compounds: Fruits and veggies are vital dietary sources of plant compounds, also known as polyphenols. There are over 8,000 plant compounds known to scientists today. Each supports human health in a unique way, but all plant compounds act as antioxidants in the body to support immune health by reducing body-wide inflammation and targeting oxidative compounds like free radicals that are linked to both acute and chronic illnesses.

Related: The 9 Best Fruits and Vegetables for a Healthy Immune System, According to RDNs

How Many Fruits and Vegetables Should You Eat Per Day?

You may have been privy to the ‘5 A Day’ campaign of recent years encouraging both children and adults to eat at least five combined servings of fruit and vegetables per day. This recommendation still stands as a best practice, according to the current version of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, regardless of age, lifestyle, or pre-existing conditions. Likewise, the World Health Organization (WHO) also advises consuming at least five, 80-gram portions of fruits and vegetables each day, “excluding potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava and other starchy roots.”

Current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that both children and adults should aim to consume five combined servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

A 2019 meta-analysis of over 100,000 individuals illustrates why five servings of fruit and veggies per day has been the gold standard for so long. Compared to individuals who ate just two servings of combined fruit and veggies per day, those who ate five per day had lower incidence of death from all causes, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory diseases. Interestingly, the study found that risk reduction plateaued at around five servings per day.

Some healthcare professionals, however, encourage a more-is-more approach when it comes to daily fruit and veg consumption. In fact, the American Heart Association calls for four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily (so eight to 10 servings combined). This is due to the extra servings providing extra boosts of fiber, micronutrients, and oftentimes protein and good fat.

But that said, even just trying to eat (or drink) five combined servings is enough of a challenge for many people, and it’s a great initial nutrition goal that can provide some meaningful benefits.

For most folks, the ratio of fruits to veggies within these recommendations doesn’t matter. However, for those with metabolic concerns like type 2 diabetes, I would suggest more moderation around fruits, as they tend to be a more significant source of carbohydrates.

What Counts as a Fruit or Vegetable Serving?

Whole fruits and veggies don’t exactly come with a food nutrition label, so what does a serving size for different types of produce look like? Generally speaking, one serving is equal to:

  • One cup of raw fruits or vegetables

  • Half cup of cooked, canned, or frozen fruits or vegetables

  • Quarter cup of dried fruit (choose a brand without any added refined sugars)

  • Four ounces of no-sugar-added fruit or vegetable juices (though whole food options should always be your first choice!)

Starchy vegetables (potatoes, winter squash, corn, parsnips, turnips, cassava) and legumes (peas, beans, and lentils) generally don’t count toward this daily veggie serving recommendation because they’re metabolized more similarly to grains than other, lower carbohydrate vegetables are. Otherwise, all vegetables outside of these count toward your daily needs including quintessential salad ingredients, cruciferous veggies, leafy greens and lettuces, alliums, nightshades, mushrooms, asparagus, carrots, green beans—and the list goes on.

For fruit, while some health professionals say 100-percent fruit juices count, while others don’t agree. Personally, if an individual is really struggling to meet their fruit needs, I’ll advise them to count 100-percent fruit juices toward their daily fruit quota, especially if the juice in question is cold-pressed or made at home. However, with juices (regardless how many healthy ingredients they contain) you will lose out on the health-promoting fiber content that gets removed during juicing (hence, why it’s typically excluded as a serving of fruit). Nuts and seeds are also technically considered to be fruits, but they don’t count towards your five daily servings either.

How to Include More Fruits and Veggies in Your Daily Routine

There are so many delicious ways to include more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet. These include both specific ingredient and recipe ideas, as well as more general approaches or schools of thought. For example, the Mayo Clinic offers the “1-2-3 approach,” which suggests meeting your daily five by including one serving of fruit or vegetable at breakfast, two servings at lunch, and three servings at dinner.

Integrate more fruits and veggies into your meals and snacks with these easy, tasty ideas:

  • Add fresh or frozen fruit like berries, bananas, mango, pineapple, and apples, as well as easy-to-hide veggies like spinach, kale, and cauliflower into a daily smoothie. You can pack multiple servings of produce into a single smoothie for a delicious morning boost.

  • Stir vegetables into an egg or tofu scramble (or omelet).

  • Add avocado, tomato, onion, or red peppers to a breakfast sandwich.

  • Top oatmeal or yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit.

  • Opt for salads more often and experiment with adding fresh, roasted, pickled, or grilled veggies. Many fruits are also great in salads—try pears and apples in the fall, citrus in winter, and a smattering of berries in the summer. Not everyone loves a salad as a meal—totally understandable. You can always try adding a small, simple salad to your primary meal, either to start, end, or on the side with the main course.

  • Soups are the ultimate vessel for a plethora of savory, satisfying veggies, whether you puree until creamy (and undetectable!) or keep it hearty and chunky.

  • Give your pasta and grain dishes a vegetable boost.

  • Load your sandwiches up with veggies. Think outside of the lettuce and tomato box with options like spinach, bell pepper, cucumbers, carrots, and even leftover grilled or roasted veggies.

  • Sauces, like tomato-based pasta sauces and green pestos, are an easy way to squeeze more veggies into meals. Blend peppers, mushrooms, summer squash, and even spinach or kale into a puree and simply add to your sauce.

  • Steaming or boiling veggies are both classic preparation methods, but also try roasting and sauteing to add more flavor, making them more appealing to the vegetable-averse.

  • Fruit for dessert is always a hit. Whether it’s a tangy fruit salad, a homemade fruit sorbet, or a warm fruit crumble, there are so many yummy ways to include more fruit in nightly sweet treats.

  • Experiment with new fruit- and veggie-forward main and side dishes.

  • At snack time, dip cut fruit like bananas and apples into peanut butter or yogurt dip. Dunk crispy veggies into hummus, guacamole, red pepper sauce, or tzatziki are also delicious.

Related: 7 Sneaky Ways to Squeeze More Fruits and Vegetables into Your Diet

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