Produce-Rich Plates for Health

Learn tips for getting 10 servings of produce a day — the most powerful way to achieve optimum health and prevent disease.

| January/February 2020

Photo by Getty Images/ YelenaYemchuk

It’s easy to overlook humble garden crops. They lack fancy packaging and labels that remind us of their health benefits. They aren’t glamorously featured in Super Bowl commercials, or sold in convenient serving sizes. In a culture driven to distraction, largely overworked, and mentally and physically exhausted, the added burden of chopping and prepping garden produce can seem too daunting to be worth the effort.

Diet and lifestyle are the foundations of health, and we’ve long understood that daily consumption of fruits and vegetables — five servings each day, as recommended by public policy and health education guidelines for decades — constitutes a healthy diet. And for decades, we haven’t stepped up to the task, and now find ourselves addressing a health care crisis. There are a multitude of cultural and logistical obstacles behind our inability to consume adequate produce, a disconnect that’s perhaps led to an overall “throwing up of hands” on the part of government officials and the general population. Ignoring this basic nutritional mandate isn’t sustainable, and, in fact, it’s led to an economic, emotional, and physical decline in our national wellness.

Yet, when we understand the positive impact of a produce-rich diet, and when we examine the cost of health care without foundational changes in diet and lifestyle, it becomes evident that simply adding more produce to our plates every day is precisely the adjustment needed to improve the overall quality of our lives.

Crunching the Numbers

In looking at the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. — heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic lung disease, cancer, kidney disease, flu/pneumonia, suicide, and unintentional accidents — all but unintentional accidents have been shown in research to be preventable by or to benefit from a healthy diet that includes eating elevated numbers of daily fruits and vegetables. In 2012, an estimated 45 percent of all cardiometabolic deaths — which include heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes — resulted from dietary factors. The total cost for treating cardiovascular disease is projected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2035. Consider that 80 percent of all deaths from kidney disease result from diabetes and hypertension. We’d immediately eliminate billions of dollars spent managing declining health with methods other than diet and lifestyle change if we’d realize that 80 percent of deaths from kidney disease, as well as 45 percent of cardiometabolic deaths, are likely preventable with dietary changes.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Syda Productions

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