We know that nine out of ten adults do not eat the recommended daily number of fruits and vegetables. That’s quite amazing when you think about it. Could the answer be so simple? Your mom was right when she implored you to “eat your vegetables!”

What exactly do fruits and vegetables provide? They are the main source of phytonutrients, which is just a fancy way of saying nutrients from plants. Some of these phytonutrients have amazing antioxidant properties to help strengthen processes such as helping cell division and reducing oxidative stress.

Another way to think about this issue is that most adults are not eating enough fiber. Whole F&V provide lots of FIBER. Why is fiber important? This is an amazing area that we are learning more about every day. Fiber is the main source of food for the three trillion bacteria that live in our digestive system and make up our gut microbiome. Without enough fiber, certain species of bacteria will die off. Others will languish. This can lead to a host of problems outside of the gut such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, migraines, weight gain, PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, and hypothyroidism. Long term problems include diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The best way to start improving the balance of organisms in your gut is to SLOWLY increase the number and variety of fruits and vegetables you eat in a day. The USDA recommends 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, but to optimize health, I recommend even more. An aspirational goal is to strive for 7-8 servings per day (more vegetables than fruits). For someone eating just a couple of servings a day, start by adding an extra serving per day each week. If you rush it, you’ll know. You may start to experience abdominal discomfort as the bacteria in the gut start to reproduce. That’s good for the bacteria, but uncomfortable for you. Take it slowly as you get used to a more robust gut microbiome.

Fruits and vegetables are perfect examples of nutrient dense foods. The beauty of adding more F&V is that their fiber is filling! By adding more foods packed with fiber, there is less room for the foods that don’t offer as much benefit.