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What is a Serving of Fruit or a Vegetable?

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Updated May 27, 2014

Cup of raspberries
Jenifer Harrington/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Tipper asks, "Dietitians and nutritionists say to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, but, what's a serving size? Is it one apple? Two carrots? Three large strawberries? Four Brussels sprouts? What about a large glass of tomato or orange juice?

When you say five servings, do you mean five fruits and five vegetables, or do you mean something like three fruits and two vegetables or two fruits and three vegetables?"

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets a serving size for vegetables to be equal to about one-half cup, except for greens like spinach and lettuce, which have a serving size equal to one full cup. One serving of sliced fruit or berries is equal to one-half cup; however a single piece of fruit, such as an apple or an orange counts as one serving. 

The USDA chose one-half cup as a serving size based on the portion sizes that people typically eat, ease of use, and the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that may act as antioxidants that protect the cells in your body. Choose colorful and dark green fruits and vegetables for the most antioxidants. They're usually low in calories unless you add high calorie sauces, turn them into pies, or deep-fry them in oil.

Make it easy -- keep a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter and serve freshly cut vegetables with dip instead of greasy potato or corn chips. I know potatoes and corn are vegetables too, but when they're served as chips, they're usually high in fat and sodium.

Nutrition and dietary experts suggest you eat from five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Older or inactive women and smaller children need at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. Growing kids, teen girls, most men and active women should eat at least four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit every day. Teen boys and active men should eat at least five servings of vegetables and four servings of fruit every day.

Unfortunately, many people fail to eat even the minimum suggested level of five servings of fruits or vegetables each day.

Here are some typical serving sizes for fruits and vegetables:

Fruits

  • One banana
  • Six strawberries
  • Two plums
  • Fifteen grapes
  • One apple
  • One pluot
  • One peach
  • 1/2 cup of orange or other fruit juice

Vegetables

  • Five broccoli florets
  • Ten baby carrots
  • One Roma tomato
  • 3/4 cup tomato juice
  • 3/4 cup vegetable juice
  • Half a baked sweet potato
  • One ear of corn
  • 1/2 cup whipped rutabaga
  • Four slices of an onion
Serving sizes listed on the Nutrition Facts Label are not always 1/2 cup like the USDA has set. Some frozen vegetable blends, for example, may list the serving size as 3/4 cup, which would meet 1 1/2 cups of your vegetable need for the day.

Sources:

Nutrition Insights. "Serving Sizes in the Food Guide Pyramid and on the Nutrition Facts Label: What's Different and Why?" United States Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. March 1999.

Unites States Department of Health and Human Services. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans." Accessed September 9, 2011. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/.

 

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