Why don’t Americans eat more fruits and vegetables? An interview with chef/nutritionist Ranelle Kirchner

Why don’t Americans eat more fruits and vegetables? An interview with chef/nutritionist Ranelle Kirchner

There is a mountain of evidence that many common and devastating chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity, are related to our diets. In spite of this, only 9% of Americans eat recommended amounts of vegetables and only 12% eat the recommended amount of fruit. Why?


Recently we interviewed nutritionist and chef Ranelle Kirchner to explore this issue and discuss how we can improve our diet. To learn more about Ranelle, check out her website and take a look at her cookbooks!

By the way, we’ll just point out that our survey data shows that folks who start receiving BrightSide Home Delivery bundles increase their fruit and vegetable consumption 2-3 fold (although it still is less than recommended daily intakes).

Anyway, here’s the interview with Ranelle (edited for brevity).

“Hi, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat. Could you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your professional background?”

“I’m a trained chef as well as a diabetes educator and dietician. I think having that trifecta is a really powerful way to use food as a tool for education, especially in the world with a lot of diet-related health conditions like diabetes.”

“Why are you passionate about dietary health?”

“It’s all about helping people make healthy changes to their diet, and to make it fun. From a chef’s perspective, you can make things creative and get people engaged. It's all about reconnecting with your relationship with food. From a dietician’s perspective, it’s about understanding what is needed in the diet and having that conversation with someone. Having that background is super essential to explain why certain things are recommended in the diet and in certain amounts.

Healthcare had always been a focus on my mind in school. I originally went for pre-med at the University of Minnesota. I dropped out to go to culinary school, but I still really wanted to be in a nurturing field connected to healthcare. Food was my way, but it didn't really click for me until I was cooking abroad in France and I saw how people ate there. I saw how people treated food. I saw the love and the appreciation that went into it. And I thought, Hey, food is super exciting. And it doesn't have to be hard. You can take basic ingredients. It doesn’t have to be expensive for you to make meals fun and exciting.

One thing that stands out from my experience in Avignon (in Southern France), where they had a plethora of fresh fruit and vegetables all the time. My job in the restaurant I was working in was to plate [present dishes for service]. There was a chicken dish garnished with truffles. At one point we were falling behind and the chef stands on top of a stool and just starts showering truffles from above me. And I was just getting rained on by truffles. It was the most magical, exotic experience.”

“Ok, let me ask you the basic question. Why is it important for folks to eat fruits and vegetables?”

“Because they offer so much to the diet in terms of general health and wellness that helps support our gut. It helps our metabolism and generally helps our body work better. When people look at plants, they don't think of the vitamins and minerals and the effect that that has on the body. But if you study it, you have a better understanding of why it's so important. It affects your teeth, your nails, your skin, it affects your disease outcomes. There are so many wonderful things that plants do! We're so focused on low carb, high protein, low fat, and we really need to be focusing on just eating plants. We can get everything we need from plants, but it's a challenge to get people to eat them.”

“How much fruit and vegetable should people eat per day?”

“Three to five servings per day. What a serving is depends on if it's raw or cooked. One cup raw is one serving. And if it's cooked, it's half of a cup. So at least one and a half cups of cooked vegetables a day, but you can easily go more than that. I mean, the more, the better, because if you think about it, they’re full of fiber and healthy proteins, and keep you fuller for longer Some people look at plants and say, you know, it’s rabbit food, without understanding how important they are to their health.”

“What are some of the main reasons why people don’t have healthy diets?”

“I think exposure is important. People tend to stick to what they know and don’t experiment much in the kitchen. So if they aren’t shown something or if they haven't done it themselves, they're probably not going to do it.

They might also be deterred by price. People assume that eating healthy is more expensive, but it’s not. I think if we taught people how to shop smarter, it would be better.

A lot of people think they have to revamp their whole diet and that sounds too hard. And yeah, I agree. That would be hard if you had to do that from scratch. But if you make a slow, gradual changes, introducing new things one at a time, you'll start to crave them. It sounds wild. But you will. And you’ll think - I actually feel a lot better. I feel like I have more energy. I hear this all the time from my patients. Once they change their eating habits, they don't want to go back to how they ate before. They no longer crave all those chips and sodas. But again, it’s that exposure that we're missing.”

“Ok, last question: What are good ways for people to start eating healthier?”

“Eat with what is in season when buying fruits and vegetables. Find things that are on sale. Eat at home, and find recipes that are fast, quick, and easy to prepare.

I thought of a really great idea for my next cookbook. When you have a recipe that has some waiting time, why not make some suggestions on things you could do during that time? Like wash the dishes, or dance while the noodles are cooking! Be active in some way so that you don't feel like you're wasting time or wish you were doing something else.”

“I read a stat last week that only around 10% of Americans eat the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables. What are your thoughts on that?”

“Oh, I mean, that would explain why we're all sick. We're all tired. We have no energy to do anything. We're exhausted from activities that shouldn't exhaust us.”

“We're also battling against the whole food system, too.”

“It is a food system problem. Vegetables should be the cheapest thing on your plate. And ultimately that's what a lot of this is, it’s that – everybody's in it to make money. When people tell me that food is expensive, I'm like, yeah, but you're saving healthcare dollars in the long run. You know how much it costs to have diabetes a year? A 2015 study estimated it costs people $17,000 a year. So you tell me that vegetables are expensive when you actually can enjoy your life and eat great tasting things.”

“That was great. Thanks so much for chatting today!”

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