Why Do We Shun Veggies?

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Americans are in complete denial about the quality of their diets. The Better Nutrition Survey conducted last April by Edelman Berland for DSM Nutritional Products found that Americans are overly confident about their diets. More than 60% of Americans rate their diets as good to excellent, but 71% think the rest of the nation isn’t doing very well diet-wise. In reality, 99 out of 100 don’t meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet. Almost six out of every ten Americans believe they get the recommended amount of essential nutrients, yet only 10% actually do. We average only three to four servings a day of fruits and vegetables. According to the US Department of Agriculture, even then, we make the worst choices, choosing potatoes (usually fried) and iceberg lettuce far more often than broccoli or spinach, and apple juice instead of orange juice for a fruit serving. As the CDC study summarized in this issue (page 3) found, as few as one in ten Americans get even the minimum recommendation for produce every day.
Why do we shun vegetables when they are the most nutritious part of our diet? Diets rich in colorful produce lower the risk for almost all age-related diseases, from heart disease and cancer to cataracts and dementia. People who load their plates with produce also have the best odds of maintaining fit, healthy weights. They live longer and happier lives. With so much to gain, why do Americans avoid produce like the plague, yet think they do pretty well?
Colorful plants are what our species evolved on. Our ancient ancestors ate lots of wild plants daily. No iceberg lettuce or French fries. Nutrient-rich dark green leafy vegetables eaten by the pounds by our ancient ancestors make it to the twenty-first-century plate less than twice a week. They averaged three or more times the amount of plant foods that we consume today. That means ten servings or more daily, or the equivalent of three to four pounds of produce every day. As a result, there was no reason for our brains to evolve any chemistry to eat what we already ate in abundance. Instead, our brains evolved elaborate chemistry to love foods rich in calories, such as fat and sweet foods. Those were the foods that would pack on a few pounds to get our ancestors through the winter or a drought. Yet, we can’t live by produce alone, so our brains evolved a shut -off valve, telling the body it was full on fiber so as to leave room for meats and sweets. That served us well in the hunter-gatherer days, but in today’s glut of high-fat, refined-carb junk, it leaves us craving cookies, not carrots.
Why do we think we eat better than we do, yet believe others are doing worse? Because we humans love to see ourselves in a good light. That’s fine, but it’s time to get honest. Really honest. Take a hard look at your diet. Get out the food scale and measuring cups and scrutinize how much and many servings of colorful fruits and vegetables you eat every day. You need at least eight, preferably more. A serving is a cup raw, a half cup cooked, or one piece, such as an apple or a carrot. Half of every plate should be colorful produce. Said another way, every meal and snack should include at least two servings of fruits and/or vegetables.
That might seem daunting at first, but we are an adaptable species. Before you know it, the produce-packed plate will be second nature. Besides, your body will repay you a thousand-fold in health, energy, and longevity for nourishing it the way it was meant to be nourished. Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

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