4 February 2019

Want Good Health? Focus on What Really Matters

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN

Founder/ President
Farmer’s Daughter Consulting

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I strive to practice what I preach. I’m among the few people in the United States who eats the recommended number of fruits and vegetables most days of the week. Just one in ten reaches this goal. I also work diligently to make this possible for my husband. I want to promote good health and longevity for both of us. Celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary is at the top of our shared bucket list.

While striving to reach our fruit and vegetable intake goals, I sometimes worry about my husband’s interest in doing so when he’s on his own. It’s easy to load his plate with fruits and vegetables when I’m doing the cooking, but this is less likely to happen when he’s making or choosing his own meals. But I never worry about issues like his love of canned green beans or 100 percent orange juice. I promote fruits and vegetables in all forms (fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100 percent juice), knowing that people who consume the most fruits and vegetables –in all forms – have the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).1

Research published in 2014 showed that people who consume the most fruits and vegetables had the lowest risk of dying from any cause.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 18 million people die each year from CVD, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths globally. But fruit and vegetable intake doesn’t only affect risk of heart attack, stroke and other forms of CVD. Research published in 2014 showed that people who consume the most fruits and vegetables had the lowest risk of dying from any cause.2

I never worry about the production method used to grow fruits and vegetables. I understand that farmers are faced with tough business decisions related to soil quality, production methods, weather patterns, distribution and marketing options, and local as well as global markets.

Safe Pesticide Residues

Recently, I’ve been seeing increasing concern among consumers related to pesticide residues on produce, and some of this concern is having a negative impact on intake. There are many issues that come to mind in this discussion. First, all farmers, including those using organic production methods, use pesticides to protect their crops. They are expensive crop inputs, whether natural or synthetic. Farmers don’t “douse” their crops with chemicals; they use these products very judiciously. And when used according to on-label instructions, crop protection products are safe and effective.

Another important issue to consider is that the presence of pesticide residues doesn’t equate to risk. Equipment used to measure pesticide residues can measure parts per billion. When government bodies set pesticide residue tolerance limits, they look at what level of residues can be safely consumed daily over the course of a lifetime. Then this limit is often cut by a factor of 100 to 1000. The residue limits are very conservative.

I’m particularly concerned about research that shows when low income consumers are exposed to negative messages about pesticide residues, they buy and consume less produce.3 These fear-based messages are counter-productive to promoting public health. So are messages about “fresh is best.” Again, those who consume the most fruits and vegetables – in all forms – have the lowest risk of mortality from all causes.

When government bodies set pesticide residue tolerance limits, they look at what level of residues can be safely consumed daily over the course of a lifetime.

There’s also newer research suggesting people who consume the most fruits and vegetables enjoy better emotional health.4 This improvement in mood and well-being had nothing to do with selecting certain types of fruits and vegetables. This benefit from healthy eating comes from all forms of fruits and vegetables grown in any manner.

So how can you focus on what really matters? Stop making yourself crazy worrying about the minutiae. Strive each day to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables in all forms.

Six Tips to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption:

  1. Start your day with a glass of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.
  2. Pack fresh, canned or dried fruit for a mid-morning snack.
  3. Choose a vegetable-packed mid-day meal option. Love sandwiches? Great. Load them up with fresh vegetables. Prefer a hot lunch? Go for vegetable-rich soup, stews, curries or stir-fries.
  4. Need a nosh mid-afternoon? Grab some fruit or veggie chips.
  5. What’s for dinner? If you fill half your plate or bowl with fruits and vegetables, you’ll be well on your way! Keeping a variety of frozen vegetables on hand makes creating a quick vegetable side dish or two super easy.
  6. Craving something sweet for dessert or a late-night snack? Go for fruit. Need some chocolate? Enjoy a few pieces of chocolate-covered fresh or dried fruit.

Amy Myrdal Miller, M.S., R.D.N., F.A.N.D. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder/ president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting based in Carmichael, California, USA.

1 Miller V, et al. Fruit, vegetable, and legume intake, and cardiovascular disease and deaths in 18 countries (PURE): a prospective cohort study. Lancet. 2017 Nov 4;390(10107):2037-2049.
2 Wang X, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMJ. 2014 Jul 29;349:g4490
3 Huang Y, et al. Low-Income Shoppers and Fruit and Vegetables: What Do They Think? Nutrition Today: September/October 2016; 51:242-250.
4 Mujcic R and Oswald J. Evolution of Well-Being and Happiness After Increases in Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. Am J Public Health. 2016 Aug;106(8):1504-10.

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