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Fewer than 10 percent of US adults eat enough vegetables

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This week, an alternative medicine practitioner running lab tests on his houseboat — and pretending to be a molecular biologist — managed to spread the now-viral idea that kale is dangerous.

He's wrong. Actual scientists who work in this area told me the chances that there's a quiet poisoning epidemic by kale are exceedingly remote. In a world where people were getting sick from kale, they'd need to eat kilos of the green stuff each day.

And we are very far away from that world; most of us barely eat enough vegetables, period.

The federal government recommends 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. According to the new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans in every state barely hit these minimum targets in 2013.

Fewer than 10 percent of American adults ate enough vegetables. Fewer than 15 percent consumed the recommended amount of fruit.

You can see in the chart here that some states fared better than others — but no one did great. California was at the top, but still had only 13 percent of people getting their daily greens. Meanwhile, many of the Southern states (excluding Florida) did particularly poorly. In Tennessee, only 7.5 percent of citizens ate enough fruit, while in Oklahoma 5.8 percent reached the vegetable intake minimum.

The reason public health officials push fruits and vegetables is simple. As the CDC put it, "Eating more fruits and vegetables adds nutrients to diets, reduces the risk for heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, and helps manage body weight when consumed in place of more energy-dense foods."

In this chart, you can see that relative to the rest of the world, America does very poorly on this important health measure.

fruits

Fruit and vegetable consumption by country. (OECD)

So the next time someone suggests you should be worried about eating too much of any one fruit or vegetable, remember that maybe you should worry about whether you're eating enough.

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