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Are fruits and vegetables the 'gateway drug' to healthier habits?

Are fruits and vegetables the 'gateway drug' to healthier habits?

Can shifting our nation's health be as simple as eating more produce and watching less TV? According to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, changing one unhealthy habit can create a domino effect for healthier habits to follow.

The study recruited 204 adults aged 21 to 60 who all: consumed too much saturated fat, didn't eat enough fruits and vegetables, spent too much time inactive and didn't get adequate exercise. Researchers divided the participants into four groups—each assigned two lifestyle changes—to see which changes made the most impact after a three-week regimen.

"Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don't get overwhelmed," said lead author Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits. This approach simplifies it."

The approach: eating more fruits and vegetables a day and spending less time inactive (like watching TV) were found to be particularly effective in causing other healthy changes. Researchers found that TV time usually equalled junk food snacking, so eliminating one got rid of the other. 

Too good to be true?

But is it really that simple? Participants in the study were initially promised a monetary incentive to complete the tasks. Surprisingly, 86 percent of participants reported trying to maintain their habits long after the study was over. What worries me: If everyone truly took the produce suggestion to heart, evidence shows that we don't grow enough produce in the U.S. to sustain demand.

This idea of changing one thing at a time for better health is something Gary Hirshberg told me in a video interview at our office last week. (Videos coming soon!)

His call to natural businesses: "Absolutely encourage one purchase, one ingredient, one item [to be organic]. This is how you move billions of dollars." The study and Hirshberg both suggest that if you convince consumers to buy your healthy natural or organic product one time... well, you know the rest. 

Turns out, all the little things really do add up.

Do you think the study oversimplifies health? Share in the comments.

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