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Veggie Advisor: How do our vegetable recommendations at WHFoods compare with common public health recommendations?

At WHFoods, we place greater emphasis on vegetables than most common public health recommendations. In fact, we are not aware of any widely publicized vegetable recommendations that focus as much on vegetables as much as we do. You will find public health recommendations that combine fruits and vegetables into one category and match our serving recommendations for vegetables by considering them together with fruits, but at WHFoods we have specific recommendations exclusively for vegetables!

Our reasons for placing so much emphasis on vegetables are two-fold. First, we cannot find any other food group that can compete with vegetables in terms of overall nutrient richness. The diversity of nutrients in this food group is astonishing, and the concentration of certain nutrients can be astonishing as well. Second, we cannot find any other food group that can provide this nutrient richness for so consistently few calories. While our WHFoods fruits only average about 10% more calories than vegetables, you won't find any of our whole fruits dipping down below 30 calories per serving. But you will find that 11 of our vegetables have fewer than 30 calories per serving. This combination of factors means that vegetables can provide you with maximum nutrient richness while using up as few of your daily calories as possible.

Our WHFoods vegetable guidelines

At WHFoods we recommend a minimum of 5 total vegetable servings per day, with a basic serving size of 1 cup for either cooked or raw vegetables. To maximize nutrient richness from this food group, we recommend 10 daily vegetable servings. Within this total intake range, we also recommend daily intake of at least 1/2 cup of orange/yellow vegetables; 1/2 cup of red/purple vegetables; and 4 cups of green vegetables. These minimum color recommendations add up to 5 total vegetable servings per day. And if all of these minimum color servings were doubled, they would add up to 10 total daily servings.

We've created the chart below to show you exactly how our WHFoods recommendations for vegetables compare to other common public health guidelines.

A Comparison of Vegetable Intake Guidelines

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 USDA MyPlate Guidelines 2011 American Heart Association 2014 WHFoods Guidelines 2016
Total vegetables 2.5 cups per day 2.5 cups per day 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables combined 5-10 cups per day
Green vegetables 1.5 cups per week of dark green vegetables (about one-fifth cup per day of dark green vegetables) 4-8 cups per day
Red/orange vegetables 5.5 cups per week (about three-quarters cup per day) 1-2 cups per day (1/2 — 1 cup of orange/yellow and 1/2 — 1 cup of red/purple)
Starchy vegetables 5 cups per week (about three-quarters cup per day) as appropriate in meal plan
Other vegetables 4 cups per week (about one-half cup per day) as appropriate in meal plan
Anticipated total calorie intake 1,800 calories 2,000 calories 2,000 calories 1,800 calories

Cruciferous and allium vegetables

In addition to our color-based vegetable recommendations, we are convinced that two unique vegetable families belong in most every meal plan. These two vegetable families are simply too remarkable in their potential health benefits to be left out of your diet.

The first of these two families are the cruciferous vegetables. Among the 38 vegetables that we profile on our website, 9 are cruciferous vegetables. Included here are boy choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens. Other cruciferous vegetables include kohlrabi, rutabaga, and, of course, turnip root. Cruciferous vegetables are best studied with respect to cancer risk, and the total number of high-quality studies in this area numbers fare up into the hundreds. For certain cancer types, strong intake of cruciferous vegetables has almost always been associated with decreased risk. The key nutrients in cruciferous vegetables associated with these health benefits are their sulfur-containing glucosinolates. Glucosinolates aren't found exclusively in cruciferous vegetables, but they are unusually well-represented in this group. For more information about the health benefits of cruciferous vegetables, see our article Feeling Great with Cruciferous Vegetables. The potential health benefits from cruciferous vegetables are so remarkable that we recommend a minimum of three-quarter serving per day. Examples here would include 3/4 cup of broccoli or 3/4 cup of Brussels sprouts. To reach a more optimal intake level we recommend 1-1/2 cups of cruciferous vegetables per day.

Allium vegetables are a second unique vegetable family. The three most commonly eaten allium vegetables, which we profile on our website, are garlic, leeks, and onions. Other allium vegetables include chives, shallots, and scallions. You'll often hear the term "green onion" being used to refer in a very general way to these latter three types of allium vegetables, and you will also sometimes hear the term "spring onion" being used in this context.

Like cruciferous vegetables, the allium family is especially rich in sulfur compounds. In this case, many of these sulfur compounds belong to chemical groups called thiosulfinates and diallyl sulfides. Anti-inflammatory benefits are among the best studied of the potential health benefits associated with strong intake of sulfur-based nutrients. You can find detailed information about the potential health benefits of the allium vegetables in our food profiles for garlic and onions.

In the case of allium vegetables we recommend a minimum of one-third daily serving. Examples here would be the addition of some sliced onion to a salad, or inclusion of a few garlic cloves in a recipe. To reach a more optimal intake level, we recommend two-thirds serving per day. Another way to look at these recommended amounts is to think about allium vegetables on a weekly basis, where you include several full servings each week.

It's important to realize that you automatically begin to meet your color-based vegetable needs whenever you consume a cruciferous or an allium vegetable. For example, if you eat one half of a red onion, you have already met our daily minimum recommendation for both red/purple and allium vegetables! Similarly, if you consume one half of a yellow onion, you have already met our daily minimum recommendation for both yellow/orange and allium vegetables! And if you consume 2 cups of broccoli, you have actually exceeded our optimal recommendation for cruciferous vegetables and reached 50% of our minimum recommendation for green vegetables!

Giving it a try

At first glance, our vegetable recommendations might seem complicated and difficult to achieve. But when people begin experimenting with our recipes and meal plans, they usually tell us exactly the opposite. What they tell us is the following: "it sounded difficult when I read about all of vegetable types, but it just hasn't felt that way in the kitchen." And we are confident that you will feel the same way. Just consider the fact that 2 cups of broccoli, 2 cups of green beans, 1 medium carrot, and 1/2 red onion provide you with all of our minimum recommended vegetable amounts (including green vegetables, yellow/orange vegetables, red/purple vegetables, and allium vegetables) and actually exceed our optimal cruciferous vegetable recommendation. We are also confident that many people can achieve strong intake of vegetables by simply being as generous as possible with their vegetable serving sizes. For example, with many vegetables, a 1/2-cup serving size can pretty easily be bumped up to a full cup.

For more help in analyzing and improving your vegetable intake, we encourage you to make use of our Vegetable Advisor. This special website tool allows you to input your personal vegetable intake information and get personalized recommendations for deriving more benefits from this amazing food group.

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