There's a new message coming from the National Cancer Institute: Nine a day is what's needed.
"The recommendation is not five-a-day anymore. It's five to nine servings a day," says Lorelei DiSogra, director of the 5 A Day Program at the cancer institute.
Since 1991, both the food pyramid and dietary guidelines have recommended that people eat at least five servings of fruits and veggies a day. While five is good, nine is apparently a whole lot better when it comes to health benefits.
"It's not a new number. It's a range. The range has always been there," DiSogra says.
Dietary guidelines recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that children aged 2 to 6 eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day for good health. Children over the age of 6 should eat six servings; active women and teens should eat seven, and active teen boys and men should eat nine.
The new numbers are the theme of "5 A Day" week, which runs Sept. 22-28. "Eating 5 to 9 and Feeling Fine: Fruits and Vegetables Anytime!" is the new theme song of the "5 A Day" Program, which will be retaining its name.
"After all these years, we decided we needed to start clearly communicating," DiSogra says. "We didn't just make this up. It's just that adults really need to eat nine servings. That's what the science says."
The vitamins, minerals, fiber and, especially, the phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables appear to reduce the risk for heart disease, hypertension, certain types of cancer, diabetes and other diseases.
Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet can lower blood pressure quickly and dramatically in just a few weeks.
Americans are actually doing pretty well, eating an average of 4.9 servings a day, according to the cancer institute. However, with more than 60 percent of adults in the United States overweight or obese, more fruits and vegetables are definitely going to be better.
The cancer institute is launching a special campaign to reach black men between the ages of 35 and 50. Blacks have the lowest intake of fruits and vegetables and the highest rates of many diet-related diseases such as diabetes. Blacks also have the lowest awareness -- less than 14 percent -- of the importance of this component of the diet, the cancer group says.
Other groups who lag in their consumption of fruits and vegetables are school-aged children, teenagers, men aged 20 to 59, and lower-income and less educated populations.
The final message from the "5 A Day" folks is that nine a day is not going to be as tough as you think because servings are smaller than you think: A cup of cooked fruits or vegetables constitutes one serving, as does a cup of dried fruit, a cup of 100 percent fruit juice, one cup of salad or a cup of tomato sauce over pasta.
Although both fruits and veggies are naturally low in calories and high in fiber and water, try to tilt the balance in favor of the veggies, says Dawn Jackson, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a dietician with Northwestern Memorial Wellness Institute in Chicago.
"One serving of fruit is about 60 calories, and veggies have about 25. It's about one-third less," she says. "Try to have two to three servings of fruit, but then really try to bulk up on the vegetables."
What To Do
For more information on getting all your fruits and veggies, visitthe National Cancer Institute's 5 ADay site. Everything you ever wanted to know about produce,including recipes, can be found at