"People aren't eating the fruits and vegetables that contain the most nutrients," says Nanney, who is the author of new research in the March issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. "People are quite frankly confused about nutrition. I feel their pain."
Most Americans recognize a healthy diet should include at least five fruits and vegetables, but they're not making the most nutritious choices because messages about what to eat are unclear, the research finds.
The most popular fruits and vegetables -- corn, potatoes, iceberg lettuce, apples and bananas -- aren't as rich in nutrients as other foods.
"While people understand they should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, they are not translating 'variety' in a way to capture health benefits, such as reducing their risk of developing chronic diseases," Nanney says. "I'm just asking them to expand their interpretation of diets."
Nanney, a dietitian, notes that United States Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and other health groups offer conflicting messages about which fruits and veggies are most nutritious.
"You can see how the public gets confused by inconsistency in the messages," she says.
In other words, they don't know what's best for them. Research shows that eating fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins A and C, betacarotene and fiber -- the so-called "powerhouse" fruits and veggies -- reduces the risk of chronic diseases. Yet, Nanney says, people don't know which foods work better than others.
"Until nutrition messages become more consistent and direct, we may not see improvements in powerhouse vegetable and fruit intake
Contact: Nancy Solomon
Saint Louis University