What's stopping people from eating their vegetables?

July 24 2015

We all know that vegetables are good for us. They're low in fats and sugars, full of fibre and a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits can reduce the risk of a variety of health problems - like cancer and heart disease.

The Canadian Food Guide recommends having at least one vegetable or fruit at every meal, and to choose them over other snack options.

Other recommendations include:

  • Eat at least one dark green vegetable like broccoli, romaine lettuce and spinach every day.
  • Eat at least one orange vegetable like carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash every day.
  • Choose vegetables and fruit prepared with little or no added fat, sugar or salt.
  • Enjoy vegetables steamed, baked or stir-fried instead of deep fried.
  • Have whole vegetables and fruit more often than juice.

The food guide also advises that everyone eats five to ten servings a day. A serving is about half a cup of fresh, frozen or caned produce.

So, how are North Americans doing on that front? Well, not so great.

Recently, sandwich chain Subway commissioned a study to mark National Eat Your Veggies Day on July 17. The results found that the average American eats about 2.3 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Canadians might be doing a little better - the National Post cites a 2013 survey, which found that average Canadian men eat around 3.5 servings per day, while women eat 4.5 servings. But, that means the average Canadian isn't even consuming the minimum recommendation.

Although there is no data to explain why Canadians aren't eating enough fruits and veggies, Subway's study asked Americans that very question.

The answer? Well, it turns out that 47 per cent of those questions answered "nothing". Nothing is holding them back from eating fruits and vegetables, they said.

Rebecca Tucker, a food writer for the National Post, takes umbrage with that answer.

"There is almost no question to which the accurate answer is 'nothing'," she says.

"By saying you have no reason not to eat more vegetables but nonetheless do not eat more vegetables, you have revealed the reason why you do not eat more vegetables. It is (probably) because you are lazy," she explains.

Ms Tucker believes that that are many ways that people can convince themselves that they are eating well, "without eating any real food at all".

She notes that a serving of fruits and vegetables, according to the Canadian Food Guide, is actually quite small - four brussels sprouts, 20 grapes, two figs or a single ring of pineapple. "It would almost seem more difficult to avoid produce than to actually eat it, given these tiny portion sizes," she adds.

One of the reasons she thinks people avoid produce is because it's hard to cook. "It's unwieldy, it's not naturally delicious the way most proteins are, it requires some finesse and panache and attentiveness, particularly if you're not amenable to the idea of boiled, steamed or raw vegetables."

So, could restaurants help increase the number of vegetables Canadians eat? Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Offer a side salad as an alternative to fries.
  • Add 'hidden' vegetables in dishes - put diced onions in your burgers or shredded carrot in your meat loaf, for example.
  • Increase the number of vegetarian dishes on offer.
  • Open up a salad bar.
  • Check your breakfast menu - are there any vegetables available for your morning customers?
  • Promote your vegetable-rich dishes with photos on the menu or table-top marketing.