Many of use grew up hearing “Eat your vegetables!” While we may not have wanted to hear it – or do it – the reality is, eating fruits and vegetables provides a lot of health benefits. People who eat five or more servings of vegetables and fruits as part of their daily meals and snacks are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. And vegetables and fruits provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of the physical body.
But what is a serving – or a portion – anyway? United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets a serving size for vegetables to be equal to about one-half cup, except for greens like spinach and lettuce, which have a serving size equal to one full cup.
One serving of sliced fruit or berries is equal to one-half cup, as well. But a single piece of fruit, such as an apple or an orange, counts as one serving.
Make it easy: Keep a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter and serve freshly cut vegetables with dip instead of greasy, high-calorie snacks or corn chips. Snacking on vegetables instead of more calorie-dense snacks can help you keep your calorie intake under control and prevent weight gain. Fruits satisfy a sweet tooth and offer more nutrients, fewer calories and less fat than most desserts such as cakes, candy, cookies or ice cream.
Also, fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that may act as antioxidants that protect the cells in your body. Choose colorful and dark green fruits and vegetables for the most antioxidants.
Here are some typical serving sizes for fruits and vegetables to get you on your way to five a day:
- One serving of fruit: Choose from these: one banana, six strawberries, two plums, fifteen grapes, one apple, one peach or nectarine or a half cup of orange.
- One serving of vegetables: Choose from these: five broccoli florets, ten baby carrots,one Roma tomato, 3/4 cup tomato juice or vegetable juice, half a baked sweet potato, one ear of corn, four slices of an onion. Frozen vegetables count too.
Remember, when you’re thinking about portions, the serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts Label of frozen foods or other foods are not always 1/2 cup like the USDA has set. Some frozen vegetable blends, for example, may list the serving size as 3/4 cup, which can count toward your vegetable need for the day.
Maryann Ludlow, RD, CD, CDE is a registered dietitian at the UVM Medical Center.
Nutrition Insights. “Serving Sizes in the Food Guide Pyramid and on the Nutrition Facts Label: What’s Different and Why?” United States Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. March 1999.