A long-term streak: Americans won’t eat their vegetables

The United States is one of the five largest vegetable producers in the world, yet Americans have for decades ¬†disregarded the advice to eat more vegetables, say USDA economists Hodan Wells and Jeanine Bentley. “For Americans to meet the (Dietary) Guidelines’ recommendations, their intake of overall vegetables, including legumes, would need to increase by 50 percent,” or 0.84 cup per day per person, they write in a special article in the Vegetables and Pulses Outlook.

Vegetable consumption fell by 8 percent, to just over 387 pounds per person annually, in the decade ending in 2014, with the largest declines seen in potatoes (America’s favorite vegetable), head lettuce, sweet corn and carrots. Wells and Bentley said exports may be a factor in lower domestic use of potatoes. Head lettuce lost ground to dark-green and leafy plants such as romaine lettuce and kale.

Per-capita use of chickpeas, or garbanzos, more than doubled in recent years, thanks to a developing taste for hummus, said the economists in discussing the shifting U.S. palate. Sweet potatoes, bell peppers, romaine and leaf lettuce, and tomatoes also are in higher demand than a decade ago. And, although potato consumption was down in general, people are eating more potato chips nowadays.

The latest issue of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the government’s advice for healthy diets, recommends daily consumption of 2.5 cups of vegetables. The U.S. average is 1.7 cups, unchanged since 2005, say Wells and Bentley.

Besides the overall recommendation of 2.5 cups a day of vegetables, the Dietary Guidelines suggest intake from five vegetable subgroups to maximize nutrient intake. “In terms of variety, Americans would need to substantially increase their consumption of red and orange vegetables by 220 percent, followed by dark greens by 43 percent, legumes by 25 percent, starchy vegetables by 13 percent, and ‘other’ vegetables by 23 percent,” says USDA.