Why Fruit and Veggies Aren’t Obesity Cure-Alls

(Photo: Sean Winters)

RAND reports on a healthy eating dilemma:

Is eating more fruits and vegetables the key to reducing obesity? A recent RAND study of more than 2,700 adults found that calorie intake from cookies, candy, salty snacks, and soda was approximately twice as high as the recommended daily amount. Consumption of fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, is only 20% shy of recommended guidelines.

Still, eating extra fruit adds more in total calories than it displaces in calories you would have otherwise consumed through junk food. For example, on average, eating one additional serving of fruit reduces about 16 calories from junk food, but it adds 70 calories to your daily total. Therefore, eating less junk food appears more important for reducing obesity than eating more fruit and veggies.




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  1. Chris says:

    The issue isn’t that you need to increase your fruits and veggies only; its more of a replacement mechanism. So if you’re coming home from work and you need a snack, you can eat a Snicker’s bar (~210) calories or you can eat an apple (~90 calories). One’s body can only consume so many items of food before you’re full. Replacing junk food with fruit/veggies is a lower calorie alternative to chips, candy or soda.

    But yes, calorie count should also be important. Even if whole wheat bread is good for you; eating an entire loaf for lunch is still a bad idea.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 3
    • Travis says:

      It’s not just the Calories, though. It’s the lower calories, lower sugar (Glycemic load) and more fiber.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
  2. Ryan says:

    Yeah, but a calorie-centric view of weight and health can be counter-productive, right?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5
    • Bart says:

      There are a plethora of ways to get around counting calories – interestingly though, they can all be tied to counting calories. Play games all you want, it IS about caloric consumption, exercise, the right kinds of calories, etc.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        In terms of losing fat, the type of food may matter more than the number of calories. It seems that 100 calories of meat do not contribute as much to the creation of fat tissue as 100 calories of bread, because the meat doesn’t trigger the fat-tissue-creating insulin response.

        You can’t ignore calories altogether, but they do not appear to be exactly equal.

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    • Mike says:

      For most people, not really. Yes, it’s important to get essential nutrients and vitamins, but most people are getting a decent number of these and obesity is a far far far bigger health risk than not getting an ideal blend of vitamins and fats/carbs/protein.

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    • Clancy says:

      The calories from fruit and veg are probably marginally better that from junk food, (complex sugars instead of simple ones, more fiber, more vitamins, etc.) but this study suggests that junk food would need to be ~4.5 times as fattening per calorie for it to make sense to up your fruit intake without making a serious effort to reduce your junk food intake. It seem unlikely that that is the case.
      Once again, people looking to lose weight without making sacrifice are disappointed.

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  3. YX says:

    Wait… what??!
    Are you telling me that I won’t be magically thinner by eating more??!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1
  4. Mayuresh Gaikwad says:

    The way it should work is, when one feels like having a snack, instead of having a bag of chips, s/he should have an apple/orange. S/he will feel full, hunger pangs would be satisfied and some much needed roughage along with lower calories ingested. Lower calories and more roughage with hunger satisfied, what’s not to like?

    That doesn’t mean you eat all your junk food that you ate before and eat additional fruits. The keyword here is SUBSTITUTION

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1
  5. Roberto says:

    The secret is to burn more than you eat. It is simple as much as it is hard to accomplish.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 11
  6. Fat boy says:

    You will be hearing from the Fruit and Vegetable Industry attorney.

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    • Clancy says:

      Also from the Junk Food Industry Association. They also benefit from the belief that people can increase fruit and veg without giving up junk food.

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  7. Franklin Chen says:

    I lost 30 pounds over a decade ago, and kept it off permanently. I never counted calories. It doesn’t really work. We all know calorie-counters who failed miserably (and without any enjoyment while at it). What works:

    – completely changing from being a sedentary person to being an active person, thereby changing one’s cellular structure and metabolism

    – cutting out stuff that just makes you hungrier (i.e. sugar) and therefore eat more

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2
  8. James says:

    “…one additional serving of fruit reduces about 16 calories from junk food, but it adds 70 calories to your daily total.”

    It might be possible to come up with a definition of “serving” that would allow that sentence to make sense, but I doubt it. What’s a serving? One apple vs one Oreo, or one apple vs a whole package of Oreos?

    In any case, it seems to ignore the obvious fact that the source of calories doesn’t matter that much for weight loss (though it does for general nutrition &c). Consume more calories than you burn, and you gain weight.

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    • CT says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 13
      • James says:

        Debunked by whom, the department of wishful thinking? Works for me, my dogs, the horses…

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    • No easy answers, but . . . says:

      Try thinking interms of “exchanges”.

      There is a different definition of “serving” that has a functional definition. It is the diabetic’s “exchange” and serves as a better handle on how much of what should be eaten. Unfortunately, it is not much advertised of adopted by food manufacturers.

      I have an obese neighbor who has heart problems and obsesses about food all the time. If you call her on the phone she will eventually get around to asking you what you had to eat at your last meal or what your next meal will be, or she will tell you about her meals. She goes to the supermarket practically every day and will eagerly read you everything off her grocery receipt, telling you all the different food she bought. She doesn’t recognize this behavior as odd or abnormal.

      She tries to stay healthy. She stays away from beef, pork and bacon, trims the fat off her meat when visible, buys chicken, uses the whites of egg only, skim milk, PAM, and eats lots of fruit. In fact, her idea of healthy eating is to buy lots of large plump fruit, like a bunch of grapes and, after washing, leave them in a handy bowl, so she can eat a few as she passes back and forth during the day. (When she proudly announced this to her doctor, her doctor was shocked and told her not to eat more than 17 a day.)

      She used to belong to Weight Watchers and learned to count calories. So now, when she buys processed food she reads the labels and knows exactly what the calories per serving are on most items. However, when I ask her what the sugar content is of what she eats, she doesn’t know. So, either I tell her or get her to look it up. But it doesn’t matter in her mind. She says, “I don’t care about the sugar content. I’m not a diabetic.”

      What she fails to understand is that sugar (glucose) that is not burned off (or, worse case, fructose) gets stored as fat. Moreover she has no conception that by having insulin resistance, she has more in common with diabetics than she realizes.

      Of course, just reading the sugar content on a box is only a small step. You also have to think about simple versus complex carbohydrates, and where a food falls on the glycemic index. And you have to realize that the suggested serving size is not actually what you are going to eat. Also, not all fats are equal when it comes to sating desire . . . etc. etc. etc.

      No easy answers, unfortunately . . .

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  9. Dave says:

    Poor showing. The title of your piece claims fruit and veggies in place of junk food will not help you lose weight. Then you go on to site a study that compares fruit and junk food, and conclude that because “on average, eating one additional serving of fruit reduces about 16 calories from junk food, but it adds 70 calories to your daily total” that some how veggies are not beneficial.

    1) where is your data on the veggies? Why do you condemn them with fruit? Fruit is loaded with sugar. Veggies are, well, not.

    2) what types of fruit are they testing? Or are we just painting all fruit as equal and condemning all fruit with one judgement?

    3) also, please show me that definitive data that links calorie consumption with weight loss/gain.

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  10. Des says:

    “Consumption of fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, is only 20% shy of recommended guidelines.”

    That’s because “recommended guidelines” aren’t based on optimal amount for health, but are skewed to what people will actually eat. When they develop the guidelines they don’t just say “what’s the healthiest foods/amounts to eat?” Rather, they say “what’s the healthiest foods/amounts to eat within reason?” The healthiest diet in the world may be an all-spinach-and-sprouts diet, but it won’t do any good to recommend that, no one would follow it and the plan would be incredible (as in ‘not credible’, not ‘amazing’).

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  11. Jar jar says:

    Calorie counting works better if you focus on just the calories from junk food and kept those to under 250 or around 10% of your total calories. The nice thing about junk food is it always comes in a package so the calories are written right there.

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  12. Jill says:

    Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think calories consumed = calories actually absorbed by your body. Aren’t calories units of heat? I think they’re determined by setting the food on fire and measuring the heat output. And fruits and vegetables are chock-full of fiber, which means that you don’t consume the whole serving of fruit — you’re expelling a significant portion.

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  13. larry says:

    It seems like the point here is that its not good enough to eat fruit _in addition_ to what you are already eating. Isn’t that obvious? I read the link and I just don’t really understand what they did in this study.

    Did they ask people to eat more fruit? Did they as people to substitute fruit for a junk food “serving” and people at junk food anyway (i.e. it didn’t help their will-power)? And why does the title talk about fruits and vegetables, but the article only talks about eating more fruit?

    The article is near content free.

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  14. Darliene Howell says:

    Weight-centered, calorie-centric eating does not lead to health. If you begin listening to your body, it will tell you what it is you need. For more information on Health At Every Size, you can find a general explanation on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_at_Every_Size) or find in-depth research-based information in the book Health At Every Size – The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Dr. Linda Bacon (http://www.lindabacon.org/HAESbook/).

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  15. Mr.T says:

    Looking from an economic point of view what do you expect? It cost more for a bag of apples then a variety bag of chips

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