How many servings of vegetables do adults need per day?
Gina Van Thomme
Many of us grew up being told to eat our vegetables. However, as adults, it can be easy to skimp on vegetables, especially when no one is forcing you to finish your carrots before dessert!
But there are plenty of enticing reasons to eat vegetables, no matter your age. Senior clinical dietitian Trisha Rosemond says vegetables are rich in fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C while being low in calories and fat.
“They help our bodies to be healthy. They also help with even reducing our risk of certain diseases, such as heart disease and cancer,” Rosemond says.
Here, Rosemond shares how many servings of vegetables adults should be eating each day, along with easy tips for incorporating more vegetables into your diet.
What is a serving of vegetables?
The serving size for vegetables depends on how they are prepared, Rosemond says. A serving of raw vegetables is one cup, while a serving of cooked or juiced vegetables is half a cup.
“Vegetables naturally have water, so they shrink when you cook them. That's why it's a little bit less,” Rosemond says.
Both men and women should aim for at least two and a half servings of vegetables a day.
To reach this goal, think of your plate as a pie chart. Aim to fill two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, whole grains and beans, and limit lean animal protein to the remaining third.
While Rosemond says that most people struggle to eat enough vegetables, it is possible to eat too many, which can cause gas, bloating or diarrhea.
“Your stomach will tell you ‘OK, this is too much,’” Rosemond says.
How to eat more vegetables
Eat the rainbow
Salads are an easy way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, but they aren’t the only way. In fact, Rosemond encourages thinking beyond leafy greens when selecting vegetables.
She notes that a vegetable’s color indicates its phytonutrients, which are also known as phytochemicals or antioxidants. For example, red vegetables like tomatoes contain lycopene, while orange vegetables like carrots contain beta-carotene. Phytonutrients have many health benefits, which range from helping to repair cells to reducing inflammation.
“All the phytonutrients have some layer of protection. They have what we call antioxidants that protect our healthy cells so they won't get damage from radicals that come from a lot of things we could eat or be exposed to,” Rosemond says.
Eat both raw and cooked vegetables
Whether or not vegetables are cooked can impact their nutritional value, but not always for the worse.
Rosemond says that although vegetables that are cooked or heated during the canning process may lose some nutrients, it doesn’t negate their health benefits.
In some cases, heat even increases a vegetable’s health benefits. “Lycopene is one of the phytonutrients in the tomato, and the lycopene content goes up when the tomato is heated or cooked,” Rosemond says.
To ensure you are getting the maximum number of benefits from your vegetables, eat a variety of both cooked and raw vegetables.
Eat canned or frozen vegetables
Canned and frozen vegetables offer many of the same benefits as their fresh counterparts.
Rosemond explains this is because many frozen or canned vegetables are picked and processed when they are at peak ripeness, locking in nutrients and giving them a longer shelf-life.
When selecting frozen or canned vegetables, Rosemond encourages shoppers to check the ingredients label to ensure the item has been minimally processed. “Make sure it doesn't have any extra salt or sauces to it because then you're taking away some of the good benefits,” she says.
Add vegetables into recipes you enjoy
Chowing down a bowl of raw spinach might not sound exciting, but what if you could get the same health benefits while eating something you enjoy?
Rosemond proposes doing just that by adding vegetables to recipes. For example, she suggests blending spinach into a smoothie or adding it to scrambled eggs. She is also a fan of pairing sliced vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers or celery with a dip like hummus, or adding extra vegetables to soups and burgers.
“The nice thing about vegetables is that you can find ways to sneak them in,” Rosemond says.