The Bad News on Fruits & Vegetables


It may not be a huge surprise that most of us in this country don’t eat a healthy diet.  Now the data is in and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, 67.5 percent of adults ate fruit less than two times daily and 73.7 percent ate vegetables less than three times per day.  This information comes from an article in Business Week.

These numbers are in contrast to the goals of Healthy People 2010, a comprehensive set of health objectives set by the government.  The goals of Healthy People 2010 were for 75 percent of people to eat at least two servings of fruit and 50 percent to eat at least three servings of vegetables every day.  Despite these noble efforts, over the past decade there has been a two percent decrease in fruit consumption and no change in the vegetable consumption, researchers found.  This program is failing.  Why?

It’s hard to imagine that ignorance is driving our avoidance of produce.  Who among us doesn’t know that fruits and vegetables are good for us?  One issue is that low-income Americans are less likely to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices compared to affluent Americans.  (For more on this issue, read about food deserts.)

Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St Louis discusses the affordability of fresh produce:

“Another factor that seems to impact purchasing fresh produce that is not clear in this report is the cost of fresh produce,” Diekman said. “With economic changes the last several years, the slight differences in consumption based on household income might be an important factor for health-care providers to address.”

(I find it tragically laughable that fresh produce–food that’s plucked right off a tree or a vine; or pulled right out of the ground–can cost more per calorie than a highly complex, laboratory engineered food such as a Twinkie, frozen pizza, or a sugary soda.  This is what our farm subsidies are doing to us.)

Most interesting to me are the neurological factors behind what we eat, and why even though we know what’s healthy and unhealthy we still make unhealthy choices.  Samantha Heller, a dietitian, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut says the following:

“It is easy to fill up on fast food, junk foods, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. In addition, by eating these highly palatable foods — those high in fat, sugar and sodium — we alter our taste and mental expectations about how a food is ‘supposed’ to taste.”

“We end up craving these foods and the healthier fare is ignored. Thus, a sweet ripe peach does not taste very sweet to someone who just chugged a 20-ounce soda or ate a bowl of ice cream. The same with vegetables. The delicious taste of many vegetable pales in comparison with high-fat, high-sodium cheese burgers and french fries.”

This is a tremendous uphill battle we face as a nation.  It’s this very issue that’s at the heart and core of our health care system.  We’ve had heated debate on what form of health care we’ll have and how to fund the system.  Yet we avoid the most significant factor in our health care, that is what we chose to eat or not eat.  It’s too tough an issue for politicians to discuss as pointing out our failings at personal responsibility tend to anger voters.  (In contrast, Michelle Obama has done a very admirable job of bringing attention to the issue of nutrition and obesity.)  No number of doctors, drugs, or high-tech medical devices can offset our personal habits.  I’m not sure that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.

2 thoughts on “The Bad News on Fruits & Vegetables

  1. Kyle,

    Some comments in response to your excellent post:

    First, having lived overseas in poor countries where many people don’t have access to good food, I am often troubled to see that in the US there is a crisis in overeating and that people eat bad food while good food is available.

    1) I’ve read that people (kids) who eat a lot of sugary foods, demonstrate in their brain chemistry an addiction response to sugar. Therefore not easy to change.

    2) There is sugar or high fructose corn syrup in almost every processed food in the supermarkets: Sausage, bread, and many other foods that are not sweet by nature. I cannot find American ham that has been cured or baked without any sweetener. Even whole grain deli breads have sugar in them.

    3) High Fructose Corn Syrup is “banned” in Europe.

    4) A ripe, juicy, sweet peach is a lovely thing indeed. But my upscale supermarket has never sold one yet. What they do sell is bins of beautiful-looking fruit that has been picked too early, is hard as a rock, and never ripens properly. I get my beautiful fruit from the farmers market, where they sell fruit that is properly ripened. It is a disgrace that even in good supermarkets, a lot of fruit just is not good. Many kids grow up not knowing what a real peach tastes like.

    I could go on, but you know all this already! I do not know what it takes for people to change their eating habits. There is no excuse for ignorance in this country: Information is everywhere.

  2. Kyle

    Miss Footloose (Please say “Hi” to Mr. Footloose for me!)

    Thanks for the comments. Your observations are spot on. We’ve got a population that might be categorized as overfed and undernourished. The insidious thing here is that we’re still operating on ancient, prehistoric brain function. For most of our existance, we actually NEEDED to eat all the sweet, fat and salty foods we could find. Fat mostly came from other animals that ran really fast and so they were hard to catch (protein came along with that fat). The sugary foods were seasonal–like fruit–so they weren’t available very often. And all the other animals in the forest wanted that stuff too! Salt was hard to come by as well. So it was conducive to our survival to pig out on that stuff.

    Now we’ve got a fixed food supply. Sugar, fat and salt is abundant. These are very recent developments. The big problem is our brain wiring hasn’t adjusted to these scenarios. We’re still driven/addicted to eating fat, sweet and salty food. Add to this our mostly seated lifestyle and we’ve got a recipe for disease and a slow slide into the grave.

    I don’t know how much Federal legislation can accomplish. I think the best solution is for parents to raise their kids to eat healthy and enjoy physical activity. I don’t believe laws and regulations will solve these problems.

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