Ask Our Dietitian: How Many Fruits and Vegetables Should I Eat a Day?

We asked our resident dietitian to tackle some of your questions about the Healthy Habits goal of eating more fruits and vegetables.

Sidney Fry

Q:  How many veggies and fruits should I eat everyday?

A: “Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.” “Americans just aren’t getting enough.” Chances are you’ve heard these phrases a time or two in the past. But what exactly does plenty mean? Five bowls of fruit? Six salads? Nine apples? Two sweet potatoes? How much is enough? The right amount for you depends on several factors, including age, gender, and physical activity. These characteristics determine how many fruits and vegetables you should be eating everyday. To get started, check our guidelines below to find the right amount that you need to enjoy on a daily basis. Physical activity has been categorized into three levels of exercise above the hustle and bustle of your everyday routine.

Lightly Active: An average of less than 30 minutes of exercise a day

  • Women ages 19-30: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 19-50: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 31-50: 1 1/2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 51+: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 51+: 1 1/2 cups Fruits + 2 cups Veggies = 3 1/2 cups TOTAL

Moderately Active: An average of 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day

  • Women ages 19-50: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 19-30: 2 cups Fruits + 3 1/2 cups Veggies = 5 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 51+: 1 1/2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 31+: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL

Very Active: An average of 60 minutes of exercise or more a day

  • Men ages 19-30: 2 1/2 cups Fruits + 4 cups Veggies = 6 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 19-50: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 31-50: 2 1/2 cups + 3 1/2 cups Veggies = 6 cups TOTAL
  • Women ages 51+: 2 cups Fruits + 2 1/2 cups Veggies = 4 1/2 cups TOTAL
  • Men ages 51+: 2 cups Fruits + 3 cups Veggies = 5 cups TOTAL

Q: What is a serving?

A: Servings are typically measured by the 1/2 cup and cup, and can be tallied up to obtain a total for each day. The goal is to match the number of fruit and vegetable servings actually consumed each day with the total cup number recommended from the above guidelines. For most fruits and vegetables, one half cup represents a serving (including fresh, frozen, and 100% juice). A few exceptions include leafy greens, in which the serving is a full cup, and dried fruit, in which the serving is 1/4 cup. Setting all detailed, specific servings aside, the bottom line is to meet your daily cup totals for fruits and vegetables.

Q: What exactly does a cup look like?

A: A lot of fruits and vegetables, especially those that have been cut or chopped, are easy to measure. If it helps, dig those measuring cups out from the back of the drawer, give the fruit or vegetable in question a measure, and you’ve got your reference point. Generally speaking, for the uncut, a large piece of fruit (banana, grapefruit, apple) or vegetable (medium sweet potato, large ear of corn, bell pepper) is the equivalent of a cup.

Q: How do I eat that many servings a day? 

A: Space it out and mix it up. For the herbivore-friendly novice, four or five cups of fruits and vegetables may seem a bit overwhelming. The idea is not to take down a quart of orange juice, or a pound of grapes in one sitting. Instead, space out your daily recommendation, and enjoy foods from a variety of sources. If your eating regimen consists of the standard three-meals-a-day with a snack, then aim for one to 1 1/2 cups at each meal, plus another 1/2 cup for a snack. If you prefer to eat six smaller meals a day, make sure you get 1/2 cup to a full cup of fruit or veggies at each mini meal.

Be good to yourself this year. Think in terms of color. If there is no color on your plate, rethink your selection and swap those potato chips for a colorful burst of essential nutrients. People who get “enough” or “plenty” of plant-based foods tend to have diets that are lower in calories, higher in fiber, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases. The benefits are immeasurable, and the endless buffet of available options leaves little excuse not to join Cooking Light’s efforts to Veggie Up!

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