Eat Your Fruits and Veggies -- but How Many?

By Charlyn Fargo

July 26, 2019 5 min read

We all know fruits and vegetables are healthy, and most of us should eat more of them than we do. But how much is enough?

As a dietitian, I teach clients to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth with lean protein and one-fourth with whole grains, along with that cup of dairy. But "half" your plate can vary by plate size; the idea behind this guideline is to provide an easy way to get healthy nutrients from fruits and vegetables. At the same time, MyPlate encourages consumers to move toward a more plant-based diet — and fewer starches and animal proteins.

If that's too broad for you, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers detailed daily recommendations, including a breakdown by type of vegetable and their serving sizes based on total daily caloric intake. According to Dietary Guidelines, an adult consuming 2,000 calories per day should be eating 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day. This is quite a leap from the typical American diet, which includes a mere cup and a half of veggies and one cup of fruit per day, according to the USDA.

For the week, try for 1 1/2 cups of dark green vegetables, 5 1/2 cups of red and orange veggies, 1 1/2 cups of legumes, five cups of starchy vegetables and four cups of other veggies.

Why the emphasis on fruits and vegetables? They are full of important nutrients we need daily — folate, magnesium, potassium, fiber and vitamins A, C and K, to name a few. Every vegetable or fruit, depending on its color and makeup, has its own unique nutritional profile. That's why eating a variety of food is just as important as balance and moderation when it comes to a healthy diet.

Make it a goal to add a few more veggies to your routine. For instance, add spinach or green and red peppers to your scrambled eggs; have two vegetables for a side dish instead of one; make a smoothie with fruits and vegetables; or eat your hummus with carrot and celery sticks instead of crackers.

Q and A

Q: Can someone on a vegan diet get enough protein?

A: Of course — if you consume enough high-protein plant foods. Protein consumption may be more common in a non-vegetarian diet, and because of that, most non-vegan Americans consume one and a half times the recommended intake of protein. If you're looking for protein sources on a vegan diet — or are just wanting to eat more plant sources — consider beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soy milk, nut butters, nuts, high-protein grains (think quinoa) or high-protein meat substitutes. Mix it up. Moving toward a more plant-based diet doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor.


Portobello mushrooms are a great way to add flavor and texture to meals. Here's a recipe for a Greek-stuffed portobello mushroom from Eating Well that can be the centerpiece of dinner or a great side dish.


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 portobello mushrooms (about 14 ounces), wiped clean, stems and gills removed

1 cup chopped spinach

1/2 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons pitted and sliced Kalamata olives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and salt in a small bowl. Using a silicone brush, coat mushrooms all over with the oil mixture. Place on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until the mushrooms are mostly soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine spinach, tomatoes, feta, olives, oregano and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium bowl. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove from the oven and fill with the spinach mixture. Bake until the tomatoes have wilted, about 10 minutes. Serves 4 (serving size: 1 stuffed mushroom).

Per serving: 151 calories; 4 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams fat; 11 milligrams cholesterol; 2 grams fiber; 390 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: Mittmac at Pixabay

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