How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Do You Actually Need Per Day?

You know you should pack your plate with produce, but how much is really enough? Here, a registered dietitian answers that question once and for all and offers easy ways to meet these recs. 

How Many Fruits and Veggies Do You Actually Need? The composition references a conveyor belt or production line
Photo: Getty Images

By now, you likely (hopefully) know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is beneficial for your health. But get this: Only one in 10 U.S. adults actually eats enough fruits and veggies to meet the daily intake recommendations for each of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But why does that even matter? And why are dietitians, such as myself, always pushing folks to eat more fruits and veggies? Find out those answers — plus, how many servings of fruits and vegetables you really need to eat per day.

Why You Need Fruits and Vegetables

When learning about how many servings of fruits and vegetables to eat per day, you first need to understand why consuming these foods is so important. And there are a lot of reasons why this is the case. Ready? Let's go.

For starters, research suggests that eating a high amount of fruits and veggies is linked to an overall improved mental wellbeing, specifically higher levels of optimism, a reduced level of psychological distress, and fewer depressive symptoms. Further, research has also found that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is associated with a better mood compared to folks who eat fewer fruits and veggies. Getting the recommended amounts of both can also help lower blood pressure, according to a 2017 study. And given that high BP can up your chances of heart disease, it's not surprising to learn that packing your plate with produce can also reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

What's more, eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies can lower the odds of developing cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and lungs — among other types of cancer as well — according to the National Cancer Institute. This is due in part to the fact that produce provides phytonutrients, which boasts antioxidant properties, as well as vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants. (Quick refresher: Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, aka harmful molecules that, in excess, can increase oxidative stress and, in turn, boost risk of chronic conditions such as cancer.) It's also because of these phytonutrients — specifically leutin and zeaxanthin (found in kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli) — that fruits and veggies have been associated with lowering the risk of eye problems, such as cataracts. Take, for example, peaches, which are loaded with leutin and, as such, are known for their eyesight-enhancing benefits.

Think those were all the benefits of phytonutrients and antioxidants found in produce? Think again. For example, the beautiful hue of blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries comes from a phytonutrient called anthocyanins, which is an anti-inflammatory antioxidant and helps keep your brain and heart healthy. (BTW, all three berries are also considered some of the most antioxidant-rich foods you can — and should — fill up on.) Deep orange fruits and vegetables such as butternut squash, carrots, and apricots have loads of beta-carotene, which is a cell-protecting antioxidant that helps build healthy skin, bones, and eyes. Eating a variety of colors ensures that you're getting a wider variety of these sorts of nutrients that help keep you healthy.

In addition to vision-boosting phytonutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants, the produce are also packed with everyone's favorite digestion-helping nutrient, fiber. ICYDK, fiber is essentially the structural part of plant foods (hello, fruits and veggies) that your body can't digest or break down, according to the Mayo Clinic. So, it passes relatively intact through your system, which, in turn, helps promote satiety (read: keeps you fuller longer) and stabilize blood sugar (thereby reducing your risk for diabetes). By eating lots of fruits and veggies you can also bank on a more balanced digestive system. Why? Because fiber not only feeds the good bacteria in your gut (which, in turn, prevents GI distress) but it also helps keep your system running smoothly. (See more: These Benefits of Fiber Make It One of the Most Important Nutrients In Your Diet)

Produce are also particularly rich sources of micronutrients, aka vitamins and minerals that are required "for every reaction that takes place in the body, [including] the digestion of food, muscle contractions, hormone production, and brain function, just to name a few," registered dietitian nutritionist Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., previously told Shape. Citrus fruits, for example, are known for being superstar sources of vitamin C — a micronutrient that's often regarded as the holy grail for healthy immune function.

And need not forget about the fact that fruits and veggies are relatively low in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar — all of which can totally be part of a healthy diet but are best consumed in lower doses.

So, How Much Fruit Should You Eat Per Day?

The USDA's 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults consume 2 cups of fruit per day (based on a 2,000-calorie diet).

One cup of fruit is...

  • = 1 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit
  • = 1 cup of 100-percent fruit juice without any added sugars (think: freshly squeezed)
  • = 1 cup of dried fruit

Now, before you run off and start sipping on homemade OJ all day or downing handfuls of craisins under the impression that you're meeting the daily recommendations of produce, there are a few things to keep in mind. For starters, you're going to want to make sure you're steering clear of added sugars when it comes to eating any packaged variety of produce (canned, frozen, dried, or juiced). For the most part, this typically involves just reading the label to make sure the ingredient list is minimal, if not just the fruit in and of itself. For canned fruit, in particular, pick products that are packed in their own juice or water. You also don't want to meet your daily fruit intake by just drinking juice — that should be limited to a maximum of 1 cup per day and consumed in moderation. Your best bet is to opt for a combination of fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruit.

When it comes to figuring out how much fruit to consume per day, you might hear a little voice in the back of your head telling you that "fruit is full of sugar" and "sugar is bad." Yes, fruit is fairly high in sugar — but they're natural sugars, which is nature's way of making the healthy fruit palatable so you'll eat and enjoy it! (And, in doing so, reap the rewards, aka the plethora of good-for-you vitamins, minerals, and more found in these guys that make them nutrient-dense foods.) That said, the amount of natural sugar in 1/2 cup of fruit is about 15 grams. So, making sure not to fill up on too much sugar while still meeting your daily fruit intake is really all about portion size. For example, 1/2 cup sliced banana, 11 seedless grapes, and 1/2 large orange are all equivalent to 1/2 cup of fruit and provide about 15 grams of sugar. But if you have a certain medical condition, such as diabetes, that might impact the amount of sugar you should consume per day, it's important to talk to your doc and/or an R.D. to figure out how much fruit per day you should be eating. (

How Many Vegetables Should You Eat Per Day?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day (based on a 2,000-calorie diet).

One cup of vegetables is...

  • = 1 cup of raw or cooked veggies
  • = 1 cup of frozen or canned veggies
  • = 1 cup of 100-percent vegetable juice without any added sugars
  • = 2 cups of raw, leafy salad greens

For canned vegetables, choose no-salt-added or low-sodium varieties, or be sure to rinse your vegetables before using them. For frozen vegetables, choose those without sauces, butter, or gravy. Make sure to also read the label on vegetable juice, as some have added sugars.

When it comes to getting enough vegetables, it does get a little more complicated. There are five subgroups of vegetables you want to choose from each week in order to get a variety of nutrients. The greater variety of vegetables you take in, the more good-for-you nutrients your body gets which helps keep you healthy.

  • Dark green vegetables (e.g. kale, spinach): 1 1/2 cups per week
  • Red and orange vegetables (e.g. carrots, red bell peppers): 5 1/2 cups per week
  • Beans, peas, lentils: 1 1/2 cups per week
  • Starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, corn): 5 cups per week
  • Other vegetables (e.g. asparagus, cabbage): 4 cups per week

Again, someone with a health condition, such as kidney disease or diabetes, may need to modify the types of fruits and vegetables they take in. In this case, best to talk to your doctor and a nutritionist to find out the best types of produce for you and your health.

What Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables Per Day Might Look Like

Adding fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks throughout the day helps ensure that you get the amount you need.

Breakfast: Warm bowl of oatmeal (made with 1/2 cup dry rolled oats and 1/2 cup milk or water), topped with 1 cup fresh blueberries

Lunch: Caprese sandwich made with mozzarella cheese and 1/2tomato, sliced; 1 cup salad greenstopped with balsamic vinaigrette

Afternoon snack: Hummus with 1 cup cut-up veggie sticks such as carrots, bell peppers, and cucumbers

Dinner: Baked salmon fillet, 1/2 cup roasted Brussel sprouts, 3/4 cup cooked farro

Evening snack: 1 medium pear topped with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

Still hungry after a meal? Start by adding 1/2 cup of vegetables or fruit. If you still need more, then increase it to 1 cup of either or both. Both are lower in calories than other post-meal noshes you might have in your cabinet and provide many beneficial nutrients.

Now, just because you figured out how many servings of fruits and vegetables to eat per day, doesn't mean you're always going to meet those amounts every day. After all, you're only human (and, please, don't beat yourself up!). And while you should try not to make a regular habit of not meeting your daily intake recommendations, your diet is really an average of what you eat over a few days. So missing one day and having extra fruit the next day evens out at the end. And remember: Fruits and vegetables have been shown over and over again to have so many health benefits, so don't fall for those diets that tell you to avoid certain vegetables or eliminate fruit. It's really about balance, and removing healthful food from your diet is the worst thing you can do for your body. (Up next: How Much Water Do You Actually Need Every Day Per Day?)

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles