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Americans are still overwhelmingly missing out on one of the easiest ways to prevent cancer, heart disease and other big killers — eating enough fruits and vegetables.
Only 12 percent of Americans eat the minimum amount of fruit recommended — a cup and a half to two cups a day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. And only 9 percent get the two to three cups of vegetables a day that are recommended.
Eating just one banana, half an apple, one salad and one cup of tomato soup would cover it, but most Americans can't seem to fit in even that much, the CDC survey found.
“Consuming enough fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity,” the CDC team reported.
This is despite years of the federal government telling people to eat more and trying a variety of ways to hammer the message home, from changing the food “pyramid” to a food “plate” in nutrition guidelines and encouraging farm-to-school programs.
West Virginia has the worst record. Just 7 percent of West Virginians get enough fruit daily and just under 6 percent eat enough vegetables. Washington, D.C. has the best records on fruit, but even there just 15 percent of adults get enough fruit.
Yet two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.
There’s little doubt about the health benefits of eating fruits and veggies, even if they are frozen or canned. People who eat just five servings of fruits and vegetables a day lower their risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.
One study found that people who ate seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables were 42 percent less likely to die from any cause over the next eight years compared to those who ate less than one serving a day.
New York University nutritionist Marion Nestle frequently points out that it is not easy to eat fruits and vegetables. They’re not readily sold at fast-food drive-throughs and people think of them as hard to prepare, with the need to rinse, cut and peel.
Plus, there are powerful lobbying and marketing groups promoting the interests of beef, dairy, pork and corn. Cheese is federally subsidized, but broccoli is not.
There’s evidence that if state and local governments try hard enough, they can get people to eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and processed foods lower in fat and sugar.
And while some programs aimed at getting kids to eat more veggies in their school lunches have stumbled, other approaches, including fresh salad bars and attractive displays of prepared fruits and vegetables, have been successful.
And one study found that giving vegetable dishes sexier names enticed people to eat them.