By Johnny Jackson
Georgia Department of Community Health officials are stressing the importance of incorporating fruits and vegetables into the daily diet as part of the "National Fruits and Veggies - More Matters Month."
While area children are offered balanced meals of proteins, fruits and vegetables at school, it is important that healthy dietary habits are continued outside of school and at home, according to Judith Hogg, the school nutrition director for Henry County Schools.
Hogg said the school nutrition department incorporates various choices of fruits and vegetables daily within the school system, which serves more than 25,000 lunches per day.
Fruit is included on every lunch tray, with a choice of a canned or fresh fruit for students in middle and high schools. She added that salads are available daily, while fruit salads are also available when the fruits are in season.
"Fruits and vegetables are very important," Hogg said. "You can never go wrong by serving your children fruits and vegetables. [And] the more colorful your choices, the healthier they are."
Children and adults can find ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diets, if they are unable to prepare them regularly, said Hogg, adding that smoothies are a source for some vitamins and nutrients, on the run.
However, she said, "I really believe that children need to learn to eat vegetables in their natural state."
Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories and provide essential nutrients and dietary fiber, according to Kimberly Redding, director of the Department of Community Health's Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Programs.
There are several benefits to adding more nutrient- and fiber-rich fruits and veggies to one's diet, officials said, including reducing the risk of chronic disease, diabetes, some cancers and possibly cardiovascular disease, as well as helping to manage weight.
"It is recommended most people consume the minimum of two servings of fruit, and three servings of vegetables per day," Redding said Wednesday, in a written statement.
She cited a report released in September 2009 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- the "State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables" -- that said that only 14 percent of adults surveyed in the United States consume the national, combined objective of two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily. And that only 13.3 percent of Georgia adults, and 7.9 percent of its adolescents meet the national objective.
The State Indicator Report showed that solely on the recommendation for fruits, 33 percent of adults meet the recommendation, and solely for vegetables, 27 percent get the recommended servings. Thirty-two percent of high school students reported eating at least two servings of fruit daily, and 13 percent reported eating at least three servings of vegetables each day.
The report points out that "schools are in a unique position to influence and promote fruit and vegetable intake among youth, school staff, parents, and other community members."
For more information, visit the CDC's "Fruits and Veggies Matter" web site at www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov.