We’ve often discussed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study that found that only 12.3% of U.S. adults consumed recommended levels of fruits and 10% got the recommended levels of vegetables. But another study by Channing Division for Network Medicine and the Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School concluded that larger intakes of fruit and vegetables were associated with lower mortality; the risk reduction plateaued at around 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. There you have it. All those years of mom telling us to finish our vegetables really made sense.

Ultimately, we have a long way to go to eat more fruits and vegetables and certainly our leafy greens that come out of Arizona during the winter. So, I’d suggest we eat more Arizona leafy greens since our Arizona farmers are so good at producing safe and nutritious vegetables. 

First, Let’s Figure Out How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables

Our nutrition experts recommend 4 to 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables. But, if you’re like me the next question you’re going to ask is, “what’s a serving size?” Dr. Glenna McCollum-Cloud, MPH, RD, Project CENTRL Class IX and former national President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, gives simple advice: “Look at the size of your fist. It really isn’t very big, is it? Next time you go to eat a meal, remember your stomach is about the same size as your fist so your portion size does not need to be super-sized but simply the size of your fist.” 

But, if you want a specific breakdown based on the main food groups, here are the recommended servings per day for several kinds of foods for a 2,000-calorie diet with examples of servings sizes of foods within each group:

  • Grains: 6 ounces (oz) per day. Serving sizes = ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or cooked cereal; 1 oz. dry pasta or rice; 1 slice bread; 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes.
  • Vegetables: 2 ½ cups per day. Serving sizes= 1 cup equivalent of vegetables is 1 cup raw vegetable or vegetable juice, 2 cups leafy salad greens.
  • Fruits: 2 cups per day. Serving sizes = 1 cup equivalent is 1 cup fruit or ½ cup of 100% fruit juice (orange juice, etc.) or 1/3 cup of a fruit juice blend.
  • Protein foods (meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, and nuts): 5 ½ oz. per day. Serving sizes = 3 oz. cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish; 2 egg whites or 1 egg; ¼ cup cooked beans; 1 tbsp. peanut butter; ½ oz. unsalted nuts/seeds. Note that ¼ cup cooked beans = 1 oz. protein equivalent but ½ cup cooked beans = 1 vegetable.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods (milk, yogurt and cheese): 3 cups per day. Serving sizes: 1 cup equivalent is 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1½ oz. natural cheese such as cheddar cheese, or 2 oz. processed cheese.

 Arizona Ag Facts about our Arizona Vegetable Production

We may be a small agricultural state and we might be more known for our desert vistas. But our Arizona agriculture statistics on vegetable production and leafy greens specifically are impressive too. 

  • As the latest U of A economic study indicates, Arizona Agriculture is a $23.3 Billion industry. The vegetable production part of this number is $2 to $4 billion. 
  • The month of November is always “Arizona Leafy Greens Month.” It celebrates the kickoff of Arizona’s leafy greens season, with abundant growth, harvest and shipments of Arizona-grown lettuce throughout the United States and Canada.
  • The desert southwest is the only place in the U.S.A. that can grow these tender crops in the wintertime, providing a fresh, wholesome, home-grown source of vegetables to Americans all over the country and also Canada.
  • Yuma County ranks in the top 1/10th of 1% of U.S. counties in vegetable production.
  • Daily between Thanksgiving and Easter, 1,200 to 1,500 semi-truckloads of leafy greens leave Yuma to deliver all over America and Canada so all of us can enjoy our leafy greens even during the wintertime. 
  • Nearly 20% of Arizona’s leafy greens are produced organically and 80% conventionally to meet consumer interest in both farming methods.
  • Americans and Canadians eat an estimated 130 million salad servings a day, and again during the winter most of those greens are supplied by Arizona.
  • Arizona’s 15 leafy greens are covered by the Arizona Leafy Greens Agreement (AZ LGMA) which assures stringent food safety practices following:
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Spring Mix
  • Cabbage
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Butter Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • Green Leaf Lettuce
  • Red Leaf Lettuce
  • Baby Leaf Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Radicchio
  • Yuma County is considered America’s winter salad bowl. But lots of leafy greens are coming from Arizona’s Maricopa and Pinal Counties too.


Here’s why you and I Need to Eat More Arizona Leafy Greens

I’ve bought in seriously on how healthy these leafy greens are that I even add them to my scrambled eggs each morning, especially Kale, mustard and collard greens. Here’s an overview of the health benefits of leafy greens. 

  • Eating more leafy greens is healthy for you! Leafy greens, especially dark green ones, are packed with phytonutrients, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 
  • The darker leafy greens are rich in A, C, E and K, and broccoli, Bok choy and mustards are also rich in several B vitamins.
  • Kale contains more Vitamin C than oranges.
  • The Vitamin K contained in dark leafy vegetables is good for protecting bones from osteoporosis and helping prevent inflammatory diseases.
  • Romaine lettuce is one of the five lettuce types and an excellent source of folate and vitamin K.
  • Bok Choy, though celery-like in appearance, belongs to the cabbage family.
  • Collard greens have been studied for their ability to lower cholesterol.
  • Cabbage dates to the 1600s. Some drink juiced cabbage for stomach and intestinal issues.
  • The most appealing benefits of dark green leafy vegetables are their low calorie and carbohydrate content and their low glycemic index.
  • Spinach is a natural hydrator with raw spinach containing 91% water. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, folate, potassium, and fiber.
  • Eating more leafy greens is healthy for you! Leafy greens, especially dark green ones, are packed with phytonutrients, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. To get you more in the mood to eat leafy greens, here are some cool facts about them.


WHAT IS the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement?

Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (Arizona LGMA) provides rigorous, science-based food safety audits to Arizona produce industry and is managed by the Arizona Leafy Greens Food Safety Committee. Arizona is the second-largest leafy green producer in the United States.  Arizona Leafy Greens members represent 98% of leafy green products grown in Arizona.

Arizona, The Nutrition State

Ultimately, all of this confirms we are a “nutrition state,” according to Dr. Burgess, Vice President for Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences, and Cooperative Extension and the Charles-Sander Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona. “When you take a look at what contemporary science considers our optimal diet for physical function and our ability to think and learn (described as a Mediterranean or Okinawan diet) it looks a lot like what is produced by Arizona agriculture,” he said. “Imagine we were to stop food imports to Arizona and so we could only eat what we produce here; how would we feel about that and how healthy would we be? We come out pretty well (arguably better off than many of us are today). Now try this for some of the “big mid-western agriculture states”—not so enticing.”

Our latest “Farm Fresh” hour on Rosie on the House on KTAR featured guest Paul Brierley, executive director for the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture. Formerly farming with his family, he now runs the Research Center to partner with Yuma farmers to constantly improved agriculture in that region of the state. The segment below shares the full conversation on Arizona’s Leafy Greens, technology advances with farming practices and more.