Lesson on Fruits & Vegetables

My parents send me the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter each month. I always enjoy reading it. However, sometimes I am a bit surprised at what I read.

This month, there is a brief article about how Americans are falling short of their fruit and vegetable intake (no surprise). California is the state that ate the most fruit (again, not a huge surprise), and Tennessee scored the most points with veggies (HUGE surprise!). But then I kept reading, and this was the last sentence of the article:

“…orange juice is the most popular fruit choice and white potatoes (often consumed as French fries) are the favorite vegetable.”

Let me just clear some things up. First of all, orange juice is NOT a fruit. I shouldn’t need to explain this, but fruits are whole fruits, and fruit juices are simply not fruits. Juice is the sugar, and some vitamins, extracted from a whole fruit. Most fruit juices have additional ingredients like artificial colors, flavors or additives. They are highly concentrated in sugar and should never be counted as one of your daily servings of fruit! I think parents are quick to assume that if their child is drinking orange juice, they are getting their daily fruit, but I disagree. Freshly squeezed (at home, by yourself) orange juice or other juices made in a juicer will have more nutrients than any juice bought in the store. Store-bought juice does contain some nutrients, but it is mostly a way for you or your child to get sugar into their body quickly. Water is a better alternative! I know some mothers who have never once brought juice into their homes, and I think this is a great idea.

Secondly, French fries are barely considered a vegetable, at least in my book. White potatoes are a starch, and while they do contain some great nutrients like vitamin C and potassium, by the time you have sliced, seasoned and fried them in oil, they hardly resemble a vegetable. I love to eat French fries occasionally, just like everyone else. However, I would never count them in my daily veggie intake. In fact, if anything I’d feel they were working against me.

These things may be clear to you already, but I just wanted to point them out. It’s a good reminder to look closely when you read a study or a claim in this type of newsletter. If Americans are falling short of their fruit and vegetable intake, and the ones they ARE consuming consist of fruits like orange juice and vegetables like French fries, then we definitely have a serious problem! Remember to get plenty of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables each day, whether you eat them plain or cook them into a dish. The best way to do this is to eat most of your meals at home, or pack your meals to go if you need to eat at the office during the day. When you eat out, focus on dishes that are mainly protein and vegetables, and don’t be shy about substituting your French fries for a salad or some steamed veggies.