University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Mindy Fretz, R.D., L.D.
First Published: November 2000
Last Revised: December 2003
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Fruits and vegetables play a vital role in a well-balanced diet,
but most of us aren't eating the recommended 5 to 10 servings per
day, said Mindy Fretz, an outpatient dietitian with University of
Iowa Health Care.
The average American consumes only three servings of fruits and
vegetables per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid recommends three to five servings of vegetables and two to
four servings of fruits per day. Eating just the minimum number of
these servings adds up to what is called the "five-a-day." Fewer than
15 percent of Americans eat the minimum five servings of fruits and
vegetables a day.
"It is important to eat according to the Food Guide Pyramid in
order to get all the proper nutrients," Fretz said. "Most of us need
to push ourselves to better fit in at least the minimum of five
servings of fruits and vegetables."
Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in fiber and provide
essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Incorporating the
proper amounts of fruits and vegetables to get a balanced diet can be
easy when you make a conscious effort.
"Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables into the diet
slowly," Fretz said. "This helps you to not waste food and become
Start by adding a serving at breakfast and then slowly add
servings of fruits and vegetables at lunch and dinner. A glass of
juice or whole pieces of fruit, such as apples or bananas, are easy
ways to incorporate a serving without much effort, Fretz said.
"A serving of chopped fruit or vegetables is a half-cup, which is
about the size of a light bulb. A serving of a whole piece of fruit
is about the size of a tennis ball," Fretz said. "A leafy vegetable
serving is one cup, which is the size of a woman's fist or a tennis
ball. Six ounces of juice is another way to get in a serving."
Dried fruit, such as raisins, is a good way to fulfill part of the
daily requirements. Dried and whole fruits are easy because they are
portable and can be eaten at any time of the day.
"Dried fruits are very concentrated and dense," Fretz said.
"One-fourth of a cup of dried fruit fulfills a serving, where a
half-cup is sufficient for chopped fruit."
Buying fruits and vegetables in season at different levels of
ripeness, as well as putting the foods you want on your grocery list,
are other easy ways to make sure there is a constant supply of fruits
and vegetables. A trip to your local farmers' market can be a fun way
to get your "five-a-day" and support your local producers, Fretz
"Any of these changes people make in their diet over time is
helpful in the long run," she noted.