WHILE fruit consumption has been linked to a healthier weight status, the same cannot be said for eating vegetables, largely because of how Americans tend to prepare their vegetables, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS).
Unlike naturally sweet fruit, Americans tend to find vegetables more palatable if prepared with added fats or oils, like fried potatoes or creamed spinach, or in a mixed dish like pizza.
As the U.S. government prepares to issue its updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2015, the question of how best to encourage Americans to eat a nutritious diet for a healthy weight is once again under discussion.
Vitamin- and mineral-packed vegetables are naturally low-calorie, low-sodium, high-dietary fiber foods, so it seems logical that eating more of them would be a good way to improve diets, reduce overall sodium intake and control weight.
However, ERS research published in the May 5 issue of Amber Waves states that linking fruit and vegetable consumption to bodyweight has been inconclusive. In fact, the 2010 dietary guidelines issued by USDA made only a qualified statement that fruits and vegetables "may be a useful part of an overall approach to achieving and/or maintaining a healthy weight."
On average, ERS research has shown that Americans eat 1.5 cups of vegetables daily, about 50-60% of the two to three cups recommended for adults and older children, but more than half (51%) of vegetable intake came from potatoes and tomatoes, whereas only 10% came from dark-green and orange vegetables. Some vegetables were eaten in their unadorned state — like raw carrot sticks or sliced tomatoes — but most were consumed in prepared forms or as part of mixed dishes.
Potatoes were typically consumed in forms that added fat, with the most common form eaten at home being potato chips and the predominating form consumed away from home being fried potatoes.
Other potato dishes, such as mashed and scalloped potatoes, were often prepared with added fats and sodium. Baked potatoes also were popular, but people most commonly — especially when eating out — did not eat the skin, thereby reducing the dietary fiber content.
The predominance of fried potatoes was expected, but the results for tomatoes, the second-most consumed vegetable by Americans, were more surprising. Although commonly consumed raw, most tomatoes are consumed as an ingredient in popular mixed foods, such as pastas and pizzas.
ERS said calorie labeling will soon be required in American restaurant chains with 20 or more establishments. Such labeling may help consumers make healthier choices when eating out and create incentives for restaurants to offer more nutritious items.