Americans Not Eating A Variety of Produce

Lack of variety leads to lack of quality nutrients

Four fruits and vegetables accounts for the majority of selected phytonutrient intake by U.S. adults, according to a new study published online in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Of total alpha-carotene intake, 72% was consumed from carrots, 81% of lycopene intake came from tomatoes (and/or tomato products) and 68% of ellagic acid intake was obtained from strawberries. Oranges (and/or orange juice) contributed 64% of beta-cryptoxanthin and 94% of hesperetin intake.

"Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy diet, and an important way to improve our phytonutrient intake is by eating more nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables every day," said Dr. Keith Randolph, technology strategist at the Nutrilite Health Institute and co-author of the paper. "And better yet, we need to encourage people to actively select a broader variety of those nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables for better health instead of the same habitual choices every day."

What are Phytonutrients?
Phytonutrients are natural, plant-derived compounds, many of which give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and may provide health benefits, including reduced risk for some age-related chronic health conditions. Phytonutrients are present in fruits and vegetables, but the type and amount widely vary. The current 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have placed increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables, and the related MyPlate icon for dietary guidance suggests that fruits and vegetables make up half the plate.

"Most Americans know they aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables. This deficit can have a significant impact on phytonutrient intake," said Mary Murphy, managing scientist at Exponent, Inc. and lead author on the study. "Given our findings, Americans might consider adding a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to their diets to help meet daily goals for these foods.  For example, a nutrient-dense and varied diet could include spinach, squash, broccoli, watermelon and a variety of berries in addition to more common choices such as tomatoes, carrots, strawberries and oranges."

The "Phytonutrient Gap"
As part of an ongoing initiative to educate Americans on the importance of phytonutrients in maintaining health and wellness, the Nutrilite Health Institute of Amway published "America's Phytonutrient Report: Quantifying the Gap" in 2009. This anchor report showed that, on average, eight out of 10 Americans have a "phytonutrient gap"– that is, they fall short in consuming key phytonutrient-rich foods that could benefit their health.

The research found significantly higher intake of several phytonutrients among adults who met dietary recommendations for fruit and vegetable servings. Women and older adults were more likely to get the recommended fruit and vegetable servings, according to the findings, but nearly all Americans fell short.

Dr. Randolph, acknowledging the challenges of eating in the modern world, emphasized the lifelong health value of regularly consuming a large quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables.  He further stated, "Think color when you make your choices to provide a range of phytonutrients."

For those having trouble getting enough fruits and vegetables into their diet, natural, plant-based supplements which contain phytonutrients can help close the "phytonutrient gap".