However, a survey by the National Cancer Institute and National Institutes of Health indicates that consumers are missing the mark -- the average number of servings per week is 12. That means that consumers are missing the health benefits vegetables can provide.
Eating vitamin- and mineral-rich vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of developing some cancers. It also lowers the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, pulmonary (lung) disease, stroke, cataracts, macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness in older adults), constipation and diverticulosis.
Vegetables that are good sources of folate -- like broccoli, spinach and dried beans -- are particularly important to women during child-bearing years. A lack of folate has been associated with birth defects like spina bifida.
What constitutes a serving of vegetables?
"Standard" serving sizes usually are much less intimidating than super-size portions served in restaurants. Use measuring cups to learn to gauge serving sizes:
l chopped, raw, nonleafy vegetables, like broccoli -- 1/2 cup.
l raw, leafy vegetables, like lettuce or spinach -- 1 cup.
l cooked frozen or canned vegetables -- 1/2 cup.
l baked potato -- one small potato.
l vegetable juice -- 3/4 cup.
The fiber in whole vegetables is vital for elimination, so they are more beneficial than vegetable juice. Use vegetable juice to supplement vegetables in the diet, rather than replace them.
Vegetables are relatively inexpensive and readily available. So why aren't Americans eating more?
Adults who as children had to sit at the table until they finished all of their peas or cauliflower sometimes shy from eating the vegetables later in life. And because children usually mimic their parents' likes and dislikes, families often miss out on the health benefits vegetables can provide.
People who are unsure how to choose, store and cook vegetables also often opt for other foods.
My children say they don't like vegetables. How can I encourage them to eat more?
Children are naturally attracted to colorful vegetables, but do pick up on others' dislikes.
Offer a variety of vegetables, but don't call attention to them. Here are some ideas to consider:
l Serve raw or lightly steamed vegetables with a low-calorie dip -- most children like dipping.
l Puree or finely chop vegetables and add to soup and sauces.
l Add chopped peppers or tomatoes to a pizza topping or burrito.
l Liven up a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and a pickle.
Teaching children to enjoy a variety of foods -- including vegetables -- contributes to healthy choices later in life.
Why is it important to eat a variety of vegetables?
Choosing a variety of vegetables is likely to offer a similar variety of disease-preventing vitamins and minerals.
For example, dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach and collards are rich in B vitamins as well as vitamins A and C, which help bolster the immune system. They also offer healthy servings of calcium for bones and iron for strength.
Deep yellow vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are important sources of vitamin A, which contributes to healthy vision and skin and guards against infection.
What makes vegetables look -- and taste -- so different?
Vegetables come from a variety of plant sources:
l Root vegetables include carrots, potatoes, turnips, beets and radishes.
l Stem vegetables include celery and asparagus.
l Leafy vegetables include lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale and parsley.
l "Fruit" plant vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash.
l "Flower" plant vegetables include broccoli and cauliflower.
l "Seed" plant vegetables include corn, peas and dried beans.
Are fresh vegetables preferable to canned or frozen vegetables?
Garden-fresh vegetables available at farmers markets can be a treat. But frozen vegetables, which are picked at peak flavor and processed quickly to retain freshness, and canned vegetables, which are processed after a short cooking time, both retain a majority of vitamins and minerals.
Canned vegetables usually are slightly higher in sodium.
The important thing to remember is to eat a variety of vegetables -- fresh, frozen or canned.
Is there a preferred way to cook vegetables?
Overcooking can rob vegetables of vitamins, minerals, flavor and texture. Adding high-calorie sauces or using high-fat cooking methods such as frying also can sabotage vegetables' health benefits.
When scrubbed well with a vegetable brush, many vegetables can be eaten raw.
Many also are good candidates for light steaming, stir-frying or microwaving. Quick-cooking with a minimal amount of water preserves vitamins and minerals.
How should I choose fresh vegetables?
Look for vegetables without dents, bruises and soft spots. Wilt or an unusual odor also may signal a loss of freshness.
Select vegetables with bright color and consistent texture. Buy quantities that can be used within a few days.
How should I store fresh vegetables?
Most vegetables retain flavor and quality when stored in the refrigerator's crisper drawer, which has a slightly higher humidity.
Tomatoes can, however, be ripened on the counter.
Potatoes are best stored in a cool, dry place, away from bright light.
Should I wash vegetables before using them?
Scrub vegetables like potatoes, carrots or squash with a vegetable brush. Discard outer lettuce or cabbage leaves before washing. And, to be safe, place bagged or other greens or vegetables in a colander and rinse them well.
Gently wash "fragile" vegetables like tomatoes in cool water.
-- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper. She can be reached at 843-7058.