April 7th is World Health Day. This year focuses on high blood pressure, one of the many diseases increasing across both the industrialized and developing worlds. Food Tank is hosting a week of informative posts about how personal and large-scale changes in both food and agriculture systems can address these diseases.
Small changes in diet can have a big impact, according to reports from The Organic Center which have found that just a few changes in daily diet can help people make a big difference in their long-term health.
In “Transforming Jane Doe’s Diet,” Dr. Charles Benbrook, formerly of The Organic Center and currently a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, analyses how Jane Doe, an average 30 year-old American woman, can improve her health in both the short and long-term. Using an innovative new nutrient measure, The Organic Center Nutritional Quality Index or TOC-NQI, The Organic Center found that eating just four more fresh fruits and vegetables every day, along with dropping 10 calories from a daily menu, can limit weight gain and increase overall nutrient values by up to 79 percent.
Currently, fewer than one in three Americans meet the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) minimum recommendation of two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables per day, a trend that The Organic Center estimates could leave Americans with 80 percent fewer nutrients than required for a healthy diet. The USDA also reports that fresh fruits and vegetables can help prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, and some cancers, making it even more critical to make produce a central part of everyone’s diet.
The Organic Center’s TOC-NQI value is based on the levels of 27 essential nutrients compared with daily-recommended values for optimum health. It is more comprehensive than existing systems, such as those used for the Nutrition Facts found on American packaged foods, and can also be adjusted to account for differences in farming practices and plant biology.
In the example of Jane Doe, simple switches, such as replacing fruit preserves and desserts with fresh fruit, choosing whole grains, and switching from three main meals to five smaller meals, all contributed to a TOC-NQI increase of 68 percent, or roughly 68 percent more nutrients per day. Taking into account the higher nutrient content of organic produce, buying organic increased her nutrients another 11 percent.
These changes also increased the total variety of foods in Jane Doe’s diet from 17 to 21 items, and increased her servings of vegetables from 3.6 to 12.3, all the way to the top of the USDA’s ideal 6-13 servings per day. Nevertheless, more than half of the 17 original items in her diet stayed the same, proving that significant changes in diet don’t always have to be a burden.