How Many Vegetables Should You Eat?

by in Healthy Tips, May 8, 2013

carrots
Most folks don’t get enough of the recommended dietary servings of veggies and miss out on the health benefits—like a lower risk of heart disease, possible reduction in blood pressure, and protection against certain types of cancer. Understanding how much counts as one serving can help you plan your meals to meet the recommendations.

The Recommendations
According to USDA’s My Plate 100% vegetable juice, dark green vegetables (broccoli and mustard greens), red and orange veggies (carrots and peppers), starchy vegetables (corn and potatoes), and beans and peas (kidney and soy beans) all count towards your recommended daily servings. Fresh, canned, frozen, dried, whole, cut up and pureed veggies all count.

Adults 18 years and older should aim to take in between 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day. Here are the specific guidelines:

Women:

  • 19 to 50 years: 2 cups
  • 51 years and older: 1 ½ cups

Men:

  • 19 years to 50 years: 3 cups
  • 51 years and older: 2 ½ cups

Basic Vegetable Servings
As a general rule, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens are considered 1 cup from the vegetable group. If you’re buying bottled vegetable juice, be careful of added sodium. Here are examples of what counts as 1 cup:

  • Broccoli: 1 cup chopped or florets or 3 (5″ long) spears, raw or cooked
  • Greens (collards, mustard greens, turnips, kale): 1 cup cooked
  • Spinach: 1 cup cooked or 2 cups raw
  • Leafy greens (lettuce, escarole): 2 cups raw
  • Carrots: 2 medium, about 12 baby carrots or 1 cup strips, slices or chopped raw or cooked
  • Red peppers: 1 large pepper (3″ diameter, 3 ¾” long) or 1 cup chopped, raw or cooked
  • Tomato juice: 1 cup
  • Tomatoes: 1 large (3″) or 1 cup chopped or sliced, raw, canned, or cooked
  • Sweet potatoes: 1 large baked (2 ¼” or more diameter) or 1 cup sliced or mashed, cooked
  • Beans and peas: 1 cup whole or mashed, cooked
  • Corn: 1 large ear (8 to 9″ long) or 1 cup cooked
  • Potatoes: 1 medium boiled or baked potato (2 ½ to 3″ diameter), 20 medium to long strips of French fries (2 ½” to 4″ long) or 1 cup diced or mashed
  • Bean sprouts: 1 cup cooked
  • Mushrooms: 1 cup raw or cooked

Some veggies (like potatoes) are often served fried which brings with it heftier fat and calories. Although they’ll still count towards your daily recommended veggie servings, you’re better off preparing them using a healthier cooking method (like baking or roasting).

For more serving sizes of common vegetables check out the USDA’s Choose My Plate vegetable serving list.

Packaged Foods
Tomato paste, vegetable purees and sauces also count towards your daily vegetable requirements. Here’s what counts as 1 cup:

  • Vegetable purees: ½ cup
  • Tomato paste: ¼ cup
  • Vegetable sauce (like tomato): ½ cup

The cups of vegetables found in packaged food vary. The manufacturers of these foods should provide consumers with information about how many cups of veggies per serving. For example for a vegetable juice: 1 full serving of vegetable in each 8-fluid ounce glass. USDA’s My Pyramid recommends a daily intake of 2 ½ cups of vegetables for a 2,000 calorie diet.

Although pizza (really, the sauce on pizza) counts towards your daily veggie servings, it also comes with a much higher calorie count. An average slice of plain pizza has about 400 calories. In November 2011, the House-Senate agriculture spending bill announced that tomato paste in school lunch pizza counts as ½ cup serving of veggies, it received much backlash from the public (read more in this NY Daily News article and our previous Healthy Eats post).

Bottom Line: Make your servings count! Vegetables have a relatively low calorie count with around 25 calories per cup, while most processed foods can have 6 or 8 times more per serving. Although many processed foods claim to be made with real vegetables and may even contain several vegetable servings, the extra calories, fat and/or sodium may not be worth it.

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