Diversity of fruits, veggies key to healthy diet

North America is known for its fast food restaurants and its unhealthy menus. Many generations now have grown up with hamburgers, fries and loads of endless soda. Americans’ health issues and the obesity epidemic is well established in all states. According to the Harvard University school of Public Health, child obesity has tripled in the United States over the past three decades. Eating too much fast food has led to an increase in Americans of all ages for difficult health issues like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other chronic health problems. Healthy eating needs to be taught by adults to children. How bad are the eating habits of American youth?

Key findings in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over one-third (36.3 percent) of children and adolescents consumed fast food on a given day and children, and adolescents consumed on average 13.8 percent of their daily calories from fast food. At Iowa State university in the Department of Food Sciences, Professor Beirman teaches a food and culture class that examines the role food plays in the development of healthy young students.

Professor Beirman responded to these two questions.


Is it important that young people diversify their diet?

“Yes, it is important to have a balanced diet to ensure optimal health.  People should follow the recommended daily intake. Currently, young people do not intake the recommended servings of vegetables (page 82 of pdf attachment “dietary guidelines”) and the majority have higher than recommended intakes of added sugars, saturated fat and sugars.”


America has the most availability of diverse food in the world, but hamburgers and fries         remain a staple. Do you see that changing in the future? 

“Yes, I believe toddlers and young people are being exposed at early ages to different ethnic cuisine which could lead to more diversified intakes of foods in the future, i.e. Greek-style foods, sushi and Asian fusion cuisine.”


Of course, fast food can not be blamed alone for the obesity epidemic in youth. According to a study from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab,  junk food does not appear to be the only cause of the rise of obesity in children in the United States.There is also a lack of exercise and portion control that can have big consequences in adverse health issues for youth. 

There’s some good news too in their study. The Cornell University study also suggests that recent improvements in U.S. eating habits have prevented more than a million premature deaths in a 14-year period. One improvement is the 36 percent reduction of consumption of sweetened beverages, like juice and soda, so good things are happening, and everyone should keep moving forward with good eating habits.

One way to improve eating habits in the American diet is to simply “eat the rainbow.” That does not mean eating a rainbow package of Skittles or Lucky Charms! Eating the rainbow is a simple rule: eating fruits and vegetables of different colors every day. Eating a diverse diet is often defined as having at least 30 whole foods in your diet. Examples are whole grains; a variety of fruit like berries, apples and bananas; and a big collection of vegetables like greens, tubers and peppers.

The advantages are improved vision, decreased inflammation and the reduced risk of almost every health problem. A young person should be looking at it like a collection of food choices to make every day that has respective nutritional content that helps to meet the daily nutrient requirements to support overall health and well being. 

So when you are making food choices, just think, at the end of the rainbow of fruit and vegetables you will find a pot of “good health.” What could be tastier than that?

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