If you haven't started eating more fruits and vegetables yet, you're missing out on some major disease-fighting benefits, not to mention one of the best weight-management strategies to come around in years.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, recommend four to five one-half cup servings of fruits, and four to five half-cup servings of vegetables every day. Why so much?
"Because we know that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have less heart disease, and they have a healthier diet overall," says Lisa Hark, PhD, RD, author of Nutrition for Life (DK, 2005). "This is the first time they have said our dietary guidelines are not only to promote health, but to reduce the risk of major, chronic diseases and conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure."
So what does nine half-cup servings really mean? Does juice count? Do all the fruit and vegetable servings need to be fresh? And how can one possibly eat that much food without gaining weight?
"When I originally heard nine servings I thought, 'Oh my God'," Hark admits. "But if you think of it as two cups of fruits and two and a half cups of vegetables, it's a lot less daunting."
Hark recommends against drinking juice and taking multivitamins to meet the guideline requirements. "Fruits and veggies are a great source of fiber, both soluble and insoluble fiber. They're also a good source of vitamins and minerals, especially antioxidants. The natural source is always better. Juice doesn't give you much fiber, and it has too many calories."
Without juice in the equation, eating nine servings of fruits and vegetables seems like a big challenge. So we've broken down the guidelines and talked to some real women to find real solutions for eating more fruits and vegetables every day. Here's what we found.