Finally we have the real, science-backed answer to the question, “How many servings of fruits and vegetables should we eat every day?”
Over the years, nutritionists have told us we should for strive five, seven, nine or even 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Sometimes a glass of OJ is considered a good fruit serving, sometimes not. Under various laws, even pizza has counted as a vegetable. Or not.
Who isn’t confused?
Now we know. The magic minimum is five—preferably a mix of three veggies and two fruit servings. OJ and pizza don’t count.
This newest advice was published in the March  issue of Circulation, and the proof is strong. It would be hard to refute this verdict because of the sheer volume of proof behind it.
Proof From 1.9 Million People
The research team pulled together data from 66,719 women followed for 32 years in the Nurses Health Study. Then they added the data from another 42,016 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study for the same period.
That should have been enough, but they went on to review another 24 studies of different cohort groups, bringing in another 1.8 million people, for confirmation.
When all this data was melded and analyzed, the outcome was clear. People who ate five servings of fruits and veggies per day lived longer:
“Higher intakes of fruit and vegetables were associated with lower mortality; the risk reduction plateaued at ≈5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. These findings support current dietary recommendations to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, but not fruit juices and potatoes.”[i]
The good news for people who would rather stick to their meat and potatoes is that these lifesaving benefits show up at 5 servings per day and there is not much extra glory in aiming for 7 or 9 servings.
Potatoes Still Get a Raw Deal
The bad news for potato lovers, however, is that potatoes were NOT on the list of healthy vegetables. They weren’t the only vegetable that got no respect. Peas and corn also showed no association with reduced mortality.
While the report noted that all three of these “starchy vegetables” failed to reduce mortality, potatoes had another problem. Most of the potatoes Americans consume come in the form of French fries or potato chips. Both forms are highly processed, fatty, and salty.
If you are a potato lover, though, don’t forsake your favorite—just be sure to get plenty of salad or other veggies on the side. Choose baked or boiled instead of fried when you can. Even so, research has shown that frying does not destroy the vitamin C and thiamine content of potatoes. In fact, it can add vitamin E.[ii]
Hot to Get Your Servings
Grape jelly, fruit leather, French fries, and ketchup don’t count in your daily servings. Also, this study suggests that fruit juice, while healthy, did not lower mortality. So how do you get enough to meet the new five-serving guidelines?
You will have to make some effort, but not too much. For most fruits and vegetables a serving is one cup. About the size of a baseball. For salad greens it is two cups. That makes it easier.
Start out right with fruit for breakfast or during a mid-morning snack. A half grapefruit is one serving. Eat the whole thing and you have your two servings of fruit done for the day. Or you can add bananas or berries to your cereal. Give yourself a serving of applesauce. However you do it, breakfast can easily supply one serving.
Even easier for some people is a breakfast smoothie, which can supply a couple of servings of fruits and veggies right off the bat.
If you nibble while you work, keep crudités handy. Cut up apple slices or carrots, peppers, and celery sticks. If you forget that, go ahead and pay the price to have the grocery store do it for you. That could bring you up to two servings for the day (if you started breakfast with one).
At lunch, you can opt for a salad, but one of the easiest ways to be sure to get plenty of veggies is a bowl of a vegetable soup along with your sandwich. That’s your third daily serving, possibly more. I try to make large batches and keep a pot of soup in the refrigerator at all times. And if I slip up and run short on time, I just slice a tomato over whatever else I’m having. Also consider reheating a good veggie side dish that might be left over from the previous night’s dinner. Or throw a sweet potato in the microwave and top it with salsa.
When you hit the mid-afternoon energy lull, it’s a good time to grab an apple and spread some peanut butter on it instead of choosing candy bar. That makes your fourth daily serving.
Now all you need is a veggie with dinner or a small side salad and you’re done.
[i]Wang DD, Li Y, Bhupathiraju SN, Rosner BA, Sun Q, Giovannucci EL, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies of US Men and Women and a Meta-Analysis of 26 Cohort Studies. Circulation. 2021 Apr 27;143(17):1642-1654. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996. Epub 2021 Mar 1. PMID: 33641343; PMCID: PMC8084888
[ii]Fillion L, Henry CJ. Nutrient losses and gains during frying: a review. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 1998 Mar;49(2):157-68. doi: 10.3109/09637489809089395. PMID: 9713586.