Only about one-fourth of adults
in the U.S. eat three or more servings of vegetables a day according
to a recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report. This falls
far short of the national objective that at least half of Americans
reach this benchmark by 2010. Yet its not just eating more
that matters: fried potatoes (like French fries and chips) are
the biggest single source of those vegetables. Fewer than 15
percent of adults meet recommended targets for dark green and
orange vegetables according to analysis by CDC researchers. To
reach the nutritional benefits that can come with eating more
vegetables we need to expand the variety of our choices.
The most recent CDC report compares
overall fruit and vegetable consumption to the minimum standard
for good health: two fruit and three vegetable servings per day.
Based on self-reported eating habits from telephone interviews,
the study shows that 27 percent of adults and just 13 percent
of adolescents report eating three or more vegetable servings
CDC researchers have also used
a national survey with more detailed dietary information to investigate
what kind of vegetables we eat. They compared peoples diets
to the recommendations for optimum health found in MyPyramid
and the USDA food guide. These recommendations vary with calorie
needs, estimated based on age, size, gender and activity level.
Fewer than one in ten adults gets recommended amounts of dark
green vegetables, and barely over one in ten get recommended
amounts of orange vegetables.
Specific goals range from two
to three cups of dark green vegetables and one-and-a-half to
two-and-a-half cups of orange vegetables per week. We could accomplish
these goals by choosing a half-cup serving of each almost daily,
or larger servings several times a week.
Why the focus on these particular
vegetables? Dark green vegetables are major sources of potassium
and magnesium, minerals linked with healthy blood pressure and
blood sugar. Deep orange vegetables, such as carrots, winter
squash and sweet potatoes, are loaded with beta-carotene and
are often high in potassium, too. Romaine lettuce, and even darker
green leafy vegetables spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard
greens, mustard greens, turnip greens offer not only beta-carotene,
but other carotenoid cousins called lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein
may help slow the development of age-related macular degeneration
(AMD), an age-related cause of blindness. Beta-carotene, lutein
and zeaxanthin all are powerful antioxidants that seem to play
a role in blocking early stages in the development of cancer.
Dark greens also can supply a
significant amount of the folate we need. Folate is a B vitamin
that promotes heart health and helps prevent certain birth defects.
Folate is also necessary for DNA production and repair; without
that repair, damaged cells can develop into cancer. Watercress,
arugula, bok choy, broccoli and kale are dark green vegetables
in the cruciferous family that provide additional cancer-fighting
Orange vegetables are easy to
include in stir-fries and stews and are delicious simply oven-roasted
with a drizzle of olive oil and perhaps some herbs. Dark green
vegetables with small tender leaves add zip to salads or sandwiches.
You can quickly stir-fry medium to mild-flavored greens in a
bit of olive oil with garlic or sweet onion, though some like
to add two to four tablespoons of broth at the end and cook just
a few minutes to tame the somewhat bitter flavor. Some chefs
even suggest blanching stronger-flavored greens (such as turnip
and mustard) for a minute or less in some boiling water before
sautéing them. Dark green vegetables taste great served
with a cruet of red wine vinegar or lemon juice-olive oil dressing
on the side.
Visit www.aicr.org for delicious, healthy vegetable