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How many servings of Fruit and Vegetables should you get?

September 14, 2009

I was heading down to my Cousin’s wedding in Seattle this weekend with my brother and sister-in-law.  On the way down, my sister-in-law, Niki was munching on some new Vegetable Goldfish Crackers.  She was excited because it said that each serving of crackers contains a third of a serving of vegetables.  After checking out the website when I got back, I came across this press release:

An August 2009 online poll revealed that nearly a third of parents believe it is more likely that their child would become a famous movie star than eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. To help parents make it a little easier for their children (who may or may not be future celebrities) eat more vegetables, Pepperidge Farm is pleased to announce a delicious addition to the Goldfish line of baked snack crackers with the launch of Goldfish® Garden Cheddar snack crackers − smiling snacks that contain 1/3 serving of real vegetables in each serving of Goldfish crackers. Just in time for back-to-school, newGoldfish Garden Cheddar crackers are a great lunchbox snack and give kids a little vegetable boost they need along with the great taste of Goldfish that has been loved by families for more than 40 years.

This attitude is totally wrong.  It only exists because of concept of servings was created as part of the food guides.  As I say in You Are Not A Fit Person:

I have a personal hate on for the governments dietary guidelines.  In researching though, I have to be fair, apparently it was way ahead of its time.  The guidelines were originally written at a time when diseases associated with too few essential nutrients were commonplace.  Now of course the opposite is true, but the model has only been modified to try to shift the required portions towards fruits and vegetables, not revised to change the approach for healthy eating.

The fundamental problem here is the reason why the food guides were created in the first place.  They were created during a time when people weren’t getting enough nutrition.  This really is a case of using the wrong paradigm of healthy or fit foods.  See the blog entry here for paradigms in fitness, and the blog entry here for an explanation of why these paradigms are important to weight loss.

The only time that you should be worrying about a numbers of portions is when you don’t get enough nutrients, not when you get too many.  If you are overweight, you are getting too many nutrients. So, don’t ever ask how many servings of fruits and vegetables should I eat.  Odds are good, that you aren’t going to be deficient in any nutrients, unless you are eating macaroni and cheese for every meal.  Again, don’t be suckered in by what foods have.  You want foods that have no nutrients (calories) but still fill you up.  The only better option is a food that has little or no calories but tons of nutrients, such as vitamins and phytochemicals.  Sounds a lot like fruits and vegetables in fact.

I have argued that you need to eat fruits and vegetables to lose weight, in fact, I don’t think you can lose weight sustainably without eating a lot of fruits and vegetables.  This is because you will need to be full to lose weight.  You need to feel full.  You probably have a love affair with food, like I do.   You probably think about food for most of the time leading up to dinner and lunch.  You need to walk away from dinner and lunch sated.  Totally satisfied.  If you diet and you don’t feel full, you will return to filling yourself up at every chance, you will sneak out and grab those easy to find foods, such as donuts and muffins and you will stuff them in your mouth.

If you think of fruit and vegetables as things you need to eat, that you had better add some servings to your diet, you are in trouble.  What you should be thinking is how can I replace what I currently eat with low calorie density fruits and vegetables in servings that satisfy my tastes.  It is that easy.  So, hopefully now the notion of eating some crackers to get 1/3 of a serving of vegetables appears as absurd to you as it did to me (It seems as stupid as swallowing the spider to catch the fly).

You are trying to eat less, so eating crackers to get some vegetables is exactly backwards.  Don’t eat crackers.  If you are hungry, try to eat an apple, or a banana instead.  You will get more food into your stomach for much less calories.  As well, you are probably addicting to simple processed carbs.  Eating crackers will lead to eating more crackers and needing more crackers, which will do nothing to help you maintain a healthy weight.

To lose weight you are going to have to change how you look at things.  Really that is probably a big factor in why you have failed to lose weight so far.

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