September 24, 2010
Americans Eat Small Amounts Of Vegetables

Decades of exhortations to eat more vegetables have fallen on deaf ears according to this CDC report.

This report describes the results of that analysis, which indicated that, in 2009, an estimated 32.5% of adults consumed fruit two or more times per day and 26.3% consumed vegetables three or more times per day, far short of the national targets. Overall, the proportion of adults who met the fruit target declined slightly, but significantly, from 34.4% in 2000 to 32.5% in 2009; no significant change was observed in meeting the vegetable target.

People do not like vegetables and vegetables are inconvenient. Exhortations about eating better will not change this for the vast majority.

My modest proposal for solving this problem: hide vegetables inside of other foods. Imagine french fries that have some vegetable ground up into them. The vegetables could form the core inside the fry so as to keep the outside appearance unchanged. Or the vegetable could be mixed in with the fry but then a batter layer could be added to the outside of the fry. Could this be done in a way that is sellable at McDonald's? Or perhaps at a slightly more upscale fast food joint? Parenthetically, is there a good fast food hamburger? I haven't found it yet if it exists. One big problem: cheap buns. Hate em.

Meat can be used to boost consumption of berries and cherries. Cherries mixed in to ground beef even reduces carcinogen formation during cooking. So double bonus points. Stews are another way to use meat to deliver healthy foods.

Oklahomans are really bad about eating vegetables.

In 2009, an estimated 32.5% of U.S. adults consumed fruit two or more times per day (Table 1), with the highest percentage in DC (40.2%) and the lowest in Oklahoma (18.1%). The percentage of adults who consumed vegetables three or more times per day was 26.3%, with the highest percentage in Tennessee (33.0%) and the lowest in South Dakota (19.6%). Thus, no state met either of the Healthy People 2010 targets related to fruit and vegetable consumption among adults. Twelve states and DC had 35%--45% of adults who consumed fruit two or more times per day, compared with no states that had 35%--45% of adults who consumed vegetables three or more times per day (Figure).

The New York Times puts a human face on this report with New Yorkers who are embarrassed to admit how little they eat in the way of vegetables.

No one really wants to admit that they donít eat vegetables. A nurse who works at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side openly acknowledges that vegetables make her gag. Still, she begged to not be publicly identified because she is in the health care field and knows that she should set a better example.

David Bernstein, who lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is sheepish about the lack of vegetables in his diet. He waits tables at the hip M. Wells restaurant in Long Island City, Queens, and knows his way around the Union Square Greenmarket. But his diet consists largely of bacon, yogurt and frozen stuffed chicken breasts.

Embarrassed? Want a diet you can enjoy eating and still feel good about it? Some people have switched to advocating the Paleo Diet (and this has become a lifestyle) so they can make a virtue of their meat eating (plus, the Paleo Diet even makes sense). Stephan Guyenet covers that territory pretty well. See, for example his post on saturated fat, glycemic index, and insulin sensitivity. Also, his two part piece on coconut oil. After reading those posts read his brief take on dissolving away your bones with corn oil and corn oil and other high omega 6 fat sources as causes of cancer. Parenthetically, I see this as strengthening my argument for genetically engineering plant crops to boost omega 3 content. The very same genetic engineering will cause omega 3 to displace omega 6 in the oil as corn and other crops make omega 3 instead of omega 6. Bonus points.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 24 07:29 PM  Aging Diet Studies

WJ said at September 26, 2010 3:47 PM:

I've made it a point to get at least 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables during breakfast (though usually an 11.5 oz V8 counts for 2 of those), and to have two servings more as a bedtime snack.

Raw vegetables take forever to chew. Eating them during the drive to work is a timesaver.

As for hiding them inside other foods, isn't that what we do, essentially, with vitamin fortification? The reports I've read show that vitamin supplements don't improve your health.

Randall Parker said at September 26, 2010 4:55 PM:


I doubt that it is the vitamins in vegetables that are the main benefit. Likely various phytochemicals along with fiber are delivering most of the benefit.

KevinM said at September 27, 2010 3:15 AM:

Wow! Call me socially isolated, but none of my 100 closest friends and family would fail these modest guidelines.

2 servings of fruit? They worry about too much fruit as too much sugar or too much acid. Cherry season is bad enough, but now the first clementines are showing up ... IN SEPTEMBER!?! Imported tropical fruit was always available year-round, but now even the stone fruits are available 8 months of the year. When I was a kid, bananas and raisins would be the only fruit options at this time of year. Now I have to pick between pomegranates and kiwifruit.

3 servings of vegetables? I've changed enough diapers to notice the tell-tale dayglo orange evidence of massive baby carrot consumption amongst our youngest class. Come to think of it, I kinda like baby carrots myself. Back in the day, I don't remember party platters of Broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, and grape tomatoes. Or Edamame. Even our barroom appetizers are vegetables.

I'd love to see some ESS delineated study of this pattern, because I just don't see it around me.

john personna said at September 27, 2010 8:28 AM:

I'm in retirement mode now, and doing this the easy way: stopping by the market for a day or two's vegetables. I'm putting a good finish on my wok. When I was working I tried to go with some meat and vegetable ethnic food for lunch. Korean, with all the sides, got to be my favorite.

Oh, and I also sprung for the fuzzy logic rice cooker (you can get them for less than $100 now) and am doing more whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.) I think that's doing me good too.

I guess I feel virtuous because I happen to be doing well for the last couple weeks ;-)

john personna said at September 27, 2010 8:31 AM:

Oh, I am the rarity in 2010 America, a 50-something who could put on a little weight. I'm using the iPhone app "my fitness pal" to keep sat fats down but trying to get 30g protein in each meal. That might be what's making me, personally, feel good as well.

Mercer said at September 27, 2010 11:03 AM:

Why does the article say fries instead of vegetables? Potatoes are a vegetable. They may not be the healthiest choice but they are still a vegetable. I don't say this because I eat a lot of fries. I rarely eat them. I eat sweet potatoes cooked in the microwave as my main vegetable.

"Call me socially isolated, but none of my 100 closest friends and family would fail these modest guidelines.'

I won't call you isolated. I think your social circle eats very differently from most Americans if they eat three vegetables a day excluding potatoes.

Deirdre Mundy said at September 27, 2010 11:30 AM:

Sweet Potato fries are delicious!

Also, it's possible to do some marvelous things with squash! (As a treat, I sometimes throw butternut squash in the blender with a bit of milk, brown sugar, and cinnamon... the end result is a vegetable that tastes like pudding!)

Also, using pureed veggies as the base for soups and stews results in some marvelous concotions.

And how can you NOT get 2 servings of fruit a day? That's one large apple!

But my family is also on the far end of the curve, I think.... we can easily (2 adults, 4 kids) go through more than 25 pounds of produce a week. And our relatives have occasionally made comments like "It can't be healthy to eat that much spinach!"

Tuck said at September 27, 2010 11:35 AM:

Who decided that we need to eat more vegetables, anyway?

Meiczyslaw said at September 27, 2010 11:40 AM:

* Mercer:

Fries are not a vegetable. They're a dessert.

Nutritionally, potatoes are not vegetables. They're starches. (Ditto, corn.)

* On the rest of the topic:

I think part of the problem with vegetables is that Americans, in general, can't cook them worth beans. If your experience with eating vegetables is bad, then why are you going to eat them? Why bother putting in the effort to cook them correctly when the results are so uniformly poor?

Honestly, if I didn't get married to the woman I did, I'd still be avoiding vegetables. Cooking them is an art.

(Speaking of "right way to cook", here's my favorite beet recipe.)

JKB said at September 27, 2010 11:48 AM:

"Imagine french fries that have some vegetable ground up into them."

Apparently, there is some confusion as to what constitutes a vegetable. So the plan it to sneak some ground up vegetable into a potato? What exactly is a potato since it fell of the vegetable truck?

I've enjoyed fried zucchini which actually makes zucchini taste better. Sweet potato fries, do they count as vegetables?

In any case, I believe we need to come to some common understanding of what qualifies as a vegetable for this survey. It appears you must eat the "right" vegetables in the "right" form for your vegetable consumption to qualify.

I suspect this self identifying of vegetable consumption misses a lot of vegetables. Potato flour is used in items such as buns. French fries despite opinion are made from vegetables. Many products have vegetable protein as an ingredient. Onions are very good vegetables that people overlook when eating, sometimes they are even incorporated into ground meat patties. Have you seen the Chef-boy-ardee commercials about keeping people from telling the kids there is a serving of vegetables in their bowl? Do people count the beans, tomatoes, onions, etc. in chili in their vegetable count?

tim maguire said at September 27, 2010 12:08 PM:

Anyone else remember "I Hate Peas"? French fries with peas inside. Also came in carrots. 1970s. I don't know why it didn't catch on, but it didn't. Vegetables can be good if cooked right, but it is a lot of work for the amount of food prepared and it still isn't filling or particularly satisfying.

Marica Bernstein said at September 27, 2010 12:11 PM:

This evening is "veggie night" (something we do about once a week): maple roasted sweet potatoes, French-fried eggplant, a hot squash dish, and stewed peppers-- all fresh from the garden. We will skip our regular before dinner salad of peppers, tomatoes and whatever else I pick, though. I don't think our friends eat quite as many veggies as we do, but they sure do eat them when they come for supper! I can't imagine a life without fresh veggies, but then again, I can't imagine being sick all winter either. :-)

Mike S. said at September 27, 2010 12:18 PM:

--Exhorting people to eat more vegetables... good! So good our First Lady has made a personal crusade of this.
--Exhorting people to refrain from pre-marital sex... bad! Very bad; so bad in fact that only right-wing idiots do this.
--Exhorting people to stop smoking... good! So very good that Hollywood has removed all smokers from its films!
--Exhorting people to not have abortions... Bad! VERRY BAD, bad, bad, bad! 'nuff said?
--Exhorting people to drive little tin cans instead of real cars... good! So good, in fact, that real cars will soon be illegal!

Oh my, I could go on and on....

soumynona said at September 27, 2010 12:29 PM:

I have fries with vegatables inside them all the time. The vegatable of choice is potato.

tom swift said at September 27, 2010 1:01 PM:

Hmmm. Vocabulary trouble. This must be some PC or new-age definition of veggies, if potatoes don't count. Are they fruits now?

If it's a root or a grain, it isn't a veggie? Weird. Maybe that's why we don't eat enough veggies - if we eat it, some do-goodnik will tell us that it isn't a veggie after all. Isn't that special?

Bruce said at September 27, 2010 1:21 PM:

Italian Sausage Stew

3 cans of italian chunky tomatoes
2 huge onions fried in a little oil
2 green pepper fried in a little oil
3 cans navy beans (or whatever)
1kg of spicy italian sausage fried
italian seasoning
pickled jalpenos

Yummm. Lotsa veggies. Lotsa flavor.

Koblog said at September 27, 2010 1:23 PM:

The old saw is Animal, Mineral or Vegetable?

So why don't Fritos and french fries count as "vegetable?"

If they arent' vegetable are they mineral or animal?

And what about the beans in the meaty chili I'm eating right now? Vegetable, or something else? I mean, they come from a plant, don't they? They don't get mined and don't come with a body. Seems vegetable to me.

Or by "vegetable" do we mean only certain "approved" items.

As Greg Gutfeld would say, sounds dangerously vegetablist to me.

Dee G said at September 27, 2010 1:24 PM:

Spinach. It can be hidden in everything, so much so that my household goes through 2 bags of it a week. Chop 4 C of it up and mix into spaghetti sauce, stroganoff sauce, beef stews, alfredo sauce, gravy over open face hot turkey sandwiches. Use instead of lettuce on hamburgers, in tacos. Mix with mozz. cheese and wrap chicken cutlets around it, then wrap them further with bacon, roast in oven. Bacon gets crunchy, spinach moisture keeps chicken moist. Layer spinach on top of pre-cooked puff pastry (or thick grilled bread slice) w/proscuitto, roasted red peppers or tomato, parmesan, smoked gouda cheese and run under the broiler. Or, ditto with brie and beef tenderloin and portabella mushrooms. Toss baby spinach with a dressing made of 1 T olive oil, 1 t lime juice, 1 t fresh chopped basil, 1 2 t brown sugar. My five year old actually eats this because she can "dip" the spinach in her "sauce." And shoestring zucchini, mix with some batter from flour, egg, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese and dash of lemon juice or white wine or beer, drop bundles into peanut oil to brown & fry up - better than french fries. Kids will eat red and yellow pepper way more than green. Watermelon. Blueberries with whipped cream. Green beans can be bought frozen and microwaved, best way to ensure they don't get overcooked. Sweet potatoes dotted w/maple syrup or brown sugar and butter, roasted at 400 until fork-tender - add a dollop of whipped cream and the kids think it is dessert.

niel said at September 27, 2010 1:25 PM:

So the recommended amounts are fruit 2x a day & veggies 3x a day, for a total of five servings? Frankly that strikes me as a bit ambitious. I would say we'd be doing well if we could have something fresh from the garden in 2 of 3 meals. Perhaps these standards are too high. Oh, and by the way, some of us are allergic to raw fruits & vegetables, so chewing on a carrot stick for example isn't an option.

REL said at September 27, 2010 1:29 PM:

More concerning to me than this study, are the comments of presumably intelligent people on this site that don't appear to know why certain vegatables are not "good vegatables". High starch vegatables can be almost as bad for people (from an obesity standpoint) as refined carbohydrates. These include potatos, corn, carrots, beans, etc. Anybody that thinks that potatos and corn are good for you, hasn't done their homework.

REL said at September 27, 2010 1:32 PM:

It is also concerning to me that I apparently do not know how to spell vegetable.

ErikZ said at September 27, 2010 1:59 PM:

I try to avoid sugar and starches as much as I can.

That pretty much just leaves me with Cauliflower and Broccoli, which I've grown sick of.

The other day I was served a side of green beans that look like they were cooked on the grill after they took the steak off. They were delicious.

Ezmelts said at September 27, 2010 2:03 PM:

I knew I had to get more vegetables in my diet, simply to fill myself with something that was not more rice, chips or other fried things on my plate. So I just buy those steambags and eat the whole thing with my grilled chicken. It was a gradual change to make my diet the way it is now, but it's come to the point that if I go to a restaurant and I there isn't a side of veggies with my plate I ask for one because I'm so used to it now.
Never felt better.

Mark said at September 27, 2010 2:22 PM:

Somehow I don't think the answer is innovatively trying to sneak vegetables into McDonald's food.

How about getting more people, yes, even with their kids, into asian restaurants? Chinese, Japanese, Thai, whatever... My kids always loved that stuff. Now they hate McDonalds.

@ErikZ: Why are you left with only Cauliflower and Broccoli after avoiding sugar and starches?

Try some brocolli rabe with some italian sausage and garlic and olive oil.

Try some escarole with beans

I'm sure those beans you mentioned were good. I love grilled veggies. Grilled eggplant, peppers, asparagus are delish. Coat with a small amount of olive oil and salt and pepper.

NoGluten said at September 27, 2010 2:44 PM:

Please don't sneak anything into anything else. My family's food intolerances are difficult to deal with as is.

I've always considered corn to be a grain; in other words, it is not on the Paleo diet. I eat far more vegetables on the Paleo diet than I did before.

A Non-Y Mouse said at September 27, 2010 4:51 PM:

I seem to recall a day when I'd get a veggie *and* a tater of some sort on most menu items at Red Lobster. Disappointing to see it become an either/or choice these days. Most faux-Mexican restaurants round these parts serve chips and picante and/or queso for pre-meal nibbles. Wonder if the cost of a veggie platter and dip could be absorbed into the price of the meal for some nannyish restaurant?

Meiczyslaw said at September 27, 2010 5:13 PM:

* Wonder if the cost of a veggie platter and dip could be absorbed into the price of the meal for some nannyish restaurant?

You probably wouldn't eat them. Not because of the today's topic, but because of the way the restaurant would prepare the dish. For example, they generally make their salads days ahead of time and store them in the walk-in. A veggie platter would probably be prepared the same way, and anything cut would wilt as badly as lettuce over time.

The difference is that lettuce is cheaper, so if you spot brown lettuce on your salad, they can replace it at little cost.

* Definition of vegetables ...

The problem here is that there are two definitions: botanical, and nutritional -- and they're not the same. Nutritionally, a tomato is a vegetable, but (botanically) it's a fruit. So potatoes, corn, and some beans are not vegetables.

Donald Sensing said at September 27, 2010 5:55 PM:

I went on a straight vegan diet almost a month ago (or only a month ago, depending on your perspective) and so am consuming a lot of veggies and fruit. Not only is this a lot less expensive than an omnivorous diet, I find it just as enjoyable. If I can keep it up for three months I am pretty sure I'll be able to stay on it as long as I want. More likely is that I'll reintroduce meat into my diet in very limited quantities. But not eating any meat, fish or poultry now, or any food derived therefrom, has left me feeling better and more energetic than in a long time.

Mike C said at September 27, 2010 6:08 PM:

And... how much tax money have we wasted on this project over the last 50 years? Since we're looking for ways to cut the government budget, nutritional "recommendations", and the bureaucrats who write them, seem like a good place to start.

@Mike S.
Oh my, I could go on and on....

Me too. Uh, drugs are bad, mmmkay?

Anon E Mouse said at September 28, 2010 1:11 AM:

How intelligent are herbivores? How intelligent are Omnivores/scavengers? How intelligent are carnivores?

We started, collectively, as herbivores; then moved up to scavenging, which is where our far past ancestors started to develop a higher level of reasoning.

Animal protein, and the hunt, are what allowed humanity to become what we are.
This agenda with fruits and vegetables, I think, is trying to sell product. $$$. People try to point out vitamins and minerals; which are located in the ORGAN meat of animals. Why is it that society taught to leave that alone, and focus on the softest meat of the animal, instead?

To make you eat the fruits and veggies for those same nutrients you could have gotten from one source. All in the name of Greed.


bull said at September 28, 2010 3:46 AM:

Bunnies eat veggies, I eat bunnies. Mmmmmm, bunnies.

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