Fruits and vegetables are packed with everything that’s good for you and literally nothing that isn’t. Which means that getting more (and more, and more) is always better, right?That’s definitely the message from most nutrition gurus and even some entire diet plans, who promote loading up on low-cal produce as the most effective way to lose weight. Except, this: boundlessly feasting on fruits and vegetables doesn’t actually appear help people drop pounds, found an analysis of seven studies published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.Uh, how can that be? While experts can’t say for sure, they have a guess. If you spend all day sipping green juice, it’s easier to justify treating yourself to cookies after dinner. Ate salad every day this week? Then this weekend, you’re definitely diving into some pork belly tacos and pie a la mode. “There’s this magical thinking about certain food patterns. If I eat a salad, it will undo the cheeseburger. It’s a weird economic principle,” says lead study author and University of Alabama public health expert Kathryn Kaiser, Ph.D.
There’s more beyond the weight loss front. Most of us have been lead to believe that piling the produce onto our plates will lower our risk for horrible things like cancer, heart disease, and even dementia. Which is totally true, up to a point: a recent analysis of 16 studies found that eating a reasonable five daily servings of fruits and veggies was associated with a lower risk of dying from any cause. But once you hit that mark, eating more than that didn’t yield any additional benefits. In other words, one big salad a day is healthy, but adding a second might not necessarily be healthier.
Of course, that five-a-day number isn’t set in stone. Other studies have declared seven daily produce servings the optimal number. And the USDA says women ages 19-30 should get four daily helpings of fruit and five daily helpings of veggies. What’s more, plenty of people are falling short: the majority of adults get only two or three servings of produce a day, tops. And if you’re one of those people, you’d do well to add an extra apple or serving of broccoli (or both) to your eats for the day. But if you’re already eating a healthy amount of produce every day, maybe you don’t need to keep striving to sneak in more and more servings. Of course, no one is suggesting you start swapping spinach for mac ‘n cheese — but maybe there’s no real need to add beets to your chocolate cake, or drop perfectly healthy brown rice in favor of “rice” made from pieces of cauliflower.
Perhaps good enough really is good enough, and striving to eat beyond reasonably healthy might leave you feeling a little too virtuous — and more entitled to indulge in junk.
At the end of the day, you need to figure out what your own needs are from a calorie perspective,” says Felicia Stoler, Ph.D., R.D., author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes. After all, even though carrot cake oatmeal or a bowl of apple slices for dessert aren’t “free” foods are fantastic for you, they won’t undo the effects of less healthy stuff.
It seems that all things in moderation — even kale smoothies — really is best.