Do we really eat so little fruit and vegetables?

The guidelines for a healthy diet set the goal of 5 servings per day of fruit and vegetables, with 80 grams per serving. Statistics show that the average Italian does not consume 5 portions a day but still more than 400g.

It is often believed that only a minority of Italians consume the right amount of fruits and vegetables. According to data from EuroStat and Coldiretti, Italy is among the countries with the largest production of fruits and vegetables in Europe. Therefore, is it true that Italians consume little fruit and vegetables and export the rest of their production?

The guidelines set the goal of 5 portions a day with 80 grams per serving, which is the bottom of an average plate of vegetables, an apple, an orange, two mandarins or a bunch of grapes. And this is precisely where the discrepancy arises. If we consider the number of portions, the Italian average is very low. But if we look at the total grams ingested, the situation changes radically. In fact, the Italian population has a concept of portion of fruit and vegetables larger than the standard one and therefore of the canonical 80 grams.

An Italian study (Leclerq et al. 2009 Public Health Nutrition) found an average daily consumption per capita of fruit and vegetables of 418 g / day considering the entire Italian population, distributed as follows:

  • Young people: children (3-9 years) consume 136 g / day of vegetables and 134.3 g / day of fruit, adolescents (10-17 years) consume between 325.5 and 344.9 g / day of fruit and vegetables;
  • Adults (18-64 years): males consume 232.6 g / day of vegetables and 200 g / day of fruit while females consume 213.1 g / day of vegetables and 216.5 g / day of fruit;
  • Elderly: in total, males consume 503.5 g / day divided into 243.5 g / day of vegetables and 260 g / day of fruit and females a total of 478.9 gr / day divided into 210.6 g / day of vegetables and 268.3 g / day of fruit).

If we look at the individual distributions, we observe a heterogeneous picture given by combinations of consumption that are also very different from each other. For example, the consumption of fruit and vegetables is higher in Central Italy, followed by the North, with the South and the Islands lagging behind. If we compare the consumption in grams per kilogram of body weight, it is observed that children aged 3-9 consume twice as much quantity as adults (Piccinelli et al. 2011).

The consumption of fruit and vegetables is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, noble sources of multiple nutrients with a beneficial effect on our health. From them, our body obtains minerals (eg potassium and iron), vitamins (eg vitamin C, folate, B vitamins, carotenoids, tocopherols) and fibers. Furthermore, they are foods that provide non-nutritious substances (bioactive compounds) that are very important for keeping the body healthy, not essential for life but whose intake is increasingly suggested by scientific societies for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative action and for their role carried out in the prevention of cardiovascular, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases.

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