Maybe you’ve seen the recommendations by experts that we eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. That sounds like a lot, but now there are studies that indicate it might not be enough. One group reported that seven servings would be better. Another recommended 10.
Are they kidding?
What are we, monkeys? If seven or 10 is good, why not a nice even dozen? Two dozen?
So little time, so many veggies. Should I quit my job so I can clear out my schedule to eat all those fruits and vegetables?
I don't eat 10 servings of anything unless it involves ice cream or salsa, but not together.
About those veggies: Do potato chips count?
Oh, and what’s a serving?
Nutrition is an ever-evolving science. Food scientists spend years studying food and then make recommendations based on a Ouija board and their horoscope. I kid, of course. They really roll dice. Remember when we ate margarine instead of butter because butter -- which contains cholesterol -- was bad for the heart? Years later they decided margarine was bad for the heart because of trans fat – whatever that is – and butter/cholesterol was better for your heart. Soon they’ll tell us to eat seven servings a day of cholesterol.
I take dietary “breakthroughs” with a grain of salt (I would take two grains of salt, but salt isn’t good for you either), which is why I had a pretty good laugh when Adkins was popular. Keeping up with all the latest diet fads and recommendations can be confusing, unless you’re like many people and pretty much ignore them.
Or you could ask an expert. I called Dr. Pauline Williams, a friendly, pragmatic dietician and professor in BYU’s nutrition and food science department (by the way, when I looked up her name online, one website featured ads for cheese-filled pretzels and a chocolate candy bar alongside information about her; funny).
Dr. Williams cleared up a few things. For one thing, she explained that “servings” is an outdated (but commonly used) term that has been replaced by “cups,” which is more practical since no one knows what a “serving” is and one man’s serving is another man’s hors d’oeuvre. It turns out a "serving" is much smaller than it sounds.
She explained that daily dietary recommendations from the USDA consist of 12 different calorie levels, ranging from 1,000 for a sedentary person to 3,200 for an active teenager, and the fruit/veg recommendations are adjusted accordingly, but top out at about five servings per day.
She walked me through a day’s eating plan that included the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables for a middle-of-the-scale, 2,000-calorie diet to demonstrate how someone might actually eat the required fruits and vegetables.
Breakfast: cold cereal, milk with a large banana (1 cup of fruit). Mid-morning snack: a small orange (1/2 cup of fruit). Lunch: Turkey sandwich, salad (one cup of veggies), and a peach for something sweet (1 cup of fruit). Mid-afternoon snack: Baby carrots (1/2 cup of veggies). Dinner: Spaghetti with tomato sauce (1/2 cup of veggies), a side of green beans (one cup of veggies) and broccoli (one cup).
Sounds like a good plan, especially if you are a runway model.
Perhaps sensing my cynicism, she said, “It’s not that difficult. There are four tips to make it easier to get your fruits and vegetables.” Those tips: 1 – Have two snacks daily that have a fruit and vegetable; 2 – For dinner, have a salad and a vegetable, or two vegetables; 3 – Have fruit at breakfast, either cut up on cereal or whole; 4 – Consider foods that already have vegetables in them – stir fry, spaghetti sauce, tacos and salsa, stuffed peppers, soup, sweet and sour chicken. In other words, hide the vegetables as much as possible. Or make them easy to eat – have a bowl of fruit on the counter or a bowl of cut up veggies in the fridge.
When people meet Williams, they often ask the predictable question: What should I eat? Her answer: “People are always trying to pick a food or a particular diet that will cure all things. It always comes back to basics – fruits, vegetables, grains and some protein; don’t eat too much and enjoy your food.”
Wait, what about that other food group? “Every once in a while, include something decadent,” says Williams. “If I’m going to eat something decadent, I’m going to use my calories on something that is good and I’m going to enjoy it. There is pleasure in eating.”
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org