Years ago I heard this advice: If you eat lots of vegetables but never eat another fruit in your life, you’ll be nutritionally fine, but the opposite is not true. After writing last week’s column about phytochemicals found in fall and winter foods (which mostly included fruits and vegetables), I decided to do a little digging to find out if this advice is correct . Thanks to some researchers at Stanford University, I didn’t have to dig very deep.
In a 2019 article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, these researchers compared the nutrient content of the 10 most consumed vegetables in the United States (potatoes, tomatoes*, onions, iceberg lettuce, green pepper, carrots , cabbage, cucumbers, celery and broccoli) with that of the 10 most consumed fruits (bananas, apples, watermelon, grapes, strawberries, oranges, avocados, peaches, pears and mangoes). *Tomatoes are botanically a fruit but are treated as a vegetable for culinary purposes.
When comparing total nutrients per 100 calories (nutrient density), vegetables won, containing significantly more of a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients than fruits . Carrots were the winningest vegetable, while strawberries came in first place among fruits. Comparing the specific vitamins and minerals highlighted in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as more difficult to get enough of (vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium), vegetables contained significantly more folate, iron , magnesium, calcium and potassium than fruits by comparing the quantities per 100 calories. But when they looked at the nutrients per serving typicalfruits and vegetables were effectively equal.
When it came to antioxidants, the 10 common fruits had more than double the “antioxidant power” of the 10 common vegetables. Strawberries were the big winners, with broccoli leading the way among vegetables. And the fibers? While 100-calorie servings of vegetables contained almost twice as much fiber as an equivalent amount of fruit (7.8 grams versus 3.8 grams), when the study authors compared typical servings, again , there was essentially no difference, largely because 100 calories of vegetables contained almost twice as much fiber as an equivalent amount of fruit (7.8 grams versus 3.8 grams). Most vegetables are a larger serving in terms of volume than 100 calories of fruit.
What about the impact of fruits and vegetables on health? The authors looked at 13 large studies that followed people over time to look for links between their diet and deaths from major illnesses or other causes. Overall, these studies found more significant associations between vegetable consumption and lower risk of death than for fruit consumption. However, most studies have found that eating fruits and vegetables is beneficial.
Now let’s look at the problem: Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that 12% of Americans eat enough fruit, while only 10% eat enough vegetables – “enough” for adults is 1.5 to 2.5 cups of fruit equivalents. fruits and 2 to 4 cups of vegetable equivalents each day. . (The higher amounts are for adults who eat more food, usually because they have higher energy needs.)