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Focus on Agriculture

June 26, 2013

Fruits, Nuts and Veggies – the Better Choice

By Stewart Truelsen

Americans like convenience so it is not surprising that so many of us take vitamin pills and other dietary supplements. A trade group for the vitamin industry estimates that 150 million Americans use these products regularly. Supplements usually contain high amounts of specific nutrients and are generally taken to improve a person’s health and vitality. They are a simple way to gain access to these nutrients, but not the best way.

In 2010, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee said that nutrient intake should come primarily from foods, not dietary supplements. “Many people understand the importance of good nutrition,” said the panel, “but believe that a daily multivitamin/mineral pill will substitute for actually eating foods that are good for them.”

The advisory committee advocated the consumption of “nutrient-dense” forms of foods for all Americans. Nutrient-dense was defined in the 2005 dietary guidelines as those foods “that provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) and relatively few calories.”

A newly appointed advisory committee is meeting to update the government’s dietary guidelines for 2015.  One can expect even more emphasis on increasing the consumption of nutrient-dense foods which include most fruits, vegetables and nuts. In agriculture, they are part of a broader category called specialty crops.

The American Farm Bureau Federation considers specialty crops an integral part of U.S. agriculture. They account for approximately 17 percent of agricultural cash receipts and are grown on nearly 250,000 farms covering almost 14 million acres.

The Senate version of the farm bill that passed includes programs that support specialty crop research, marketing, promotion and nutrition. These programs are important to increasing production and consumption of fruits and vegetables.

One of the recommendations of the 2010 dietary advisory committee was to increase the availability of fruits and vegetables by providing greater access for all Americans to grocery stores, produce trucks and farmers’ markets. With more outlets to supply, farmers will be called on to step up production.

If you are wondering which plants are rich in specific nutrients, there are a number of new books on the market or at the library that can help with recipes for everything from arugula to zucchini along with a list of health benefits. Nuts or seeds are sometimes added to the recipes to boost nutrition. These books are a good source of information about produce items we tend to overlook, such as Brussels sprouts or kumquats.

Current dietary guidelines suggest you fill half of your plate at every meal or snack with fruits and vegetables. They are low in calories because they have high water content. They also are high in dietary fiber and rich in antioxidants which protect the body against a variety of diseases and ailments. Besides, eating them is more enjoyable and satisfying than popping a vitamin pill.


Stewart Truelsen is the author of Forward Farm Bureau, a book marking the 90th anniversary of the American Farm Bureau Federation.