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The USDA Says Americans Only Eat Three Kinds of Vegetables

Almost two-thirds of our total vegetable consumption is in the form of potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce—a.k.a. French fries, ketchup, and sad side salads.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US
Photo via Flickr user torbakhopper

As kids, we were always told to eat our vegetables. Many of us turned up our noses at broccoli and Brussels sprouts, while others took to eggplant and okra right away.

But most of us apparently fell into the former category. Because according to the US Department of Agriculture, few of us advanced to become true appreciators of the vegetable world.

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A new report released by the USDA says that more than half of America's total vegetable consumption occurs in the form of potatoes and tomatoes. Which—as you might guess—are often eaten in the form of French fries and potato chips, or for tomatoes, ketchup or red sauce. Not exactly the most "whole foods" way to get your daily servings of veggies.


Don't get us wrong—the USDA is proud of us for at least considering the value of dark, leafy greens and fiber- and protein-rich legumes. Spinach, kale, beans, peas, and lentils have all seen increased consumption in recent years.

But when it comes down to it, Americans are more keen on smothering their already paltry assortment of veggies in fat, grease, salt, and sugar before finding them fit to eat.

"Even though vegetable consumption is more diverse than it was 40 years ago, many Americans keep coming back to the same few favorites," a statement on the USDA's website reads. "Restricting one's diet to a limited set of vegetables precludes the desired variety that would supply more diverse, healthful nutrients."

New data from the Economic Research Service shows that potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce accounted for a whopping 59 percent of our total vegetable and legume intake in 2013. There are more than 40 vegetables and legumes considered in the survey, but it looks like most of us stick to these three despite our nation's cornucopia of domestically grown produce.

The average American ate almost 116 pounds of white potatoes in 2013, but two-thirds of them were rendered into fries, chips, or "frozen or processed potato products"—hash browns, tots, and the like. In fact, potatoes alone accounted for almost one-third of total vegetable consumption.

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Next up was tomatoes, at about 22 percent of our overall hoard. Although tomatoes are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and other nutrients, Americans only consumed them fresh about a quarter of the time. The rest of the time—a.k.a., the vast majority—they were eaten in sauces, canned, or as an ingredient in soups or stews.

Oh, and we did eat some lettuce. But fresh lettuce—including head lettuce, romaine, and leaf lettuces—still only accounted for 7 percent of our total vegetable intake. That's pretty much a sad, wilted layer of iceberg in your burger.

Believe it or not, this is all actually an improvement over previous numbers. In 1970, these three vegetables combined were 67 percent of the total share of vegetables and legumes consumed domestically.

But come on—we still have a long way to go. Time to roast a whole cauliflower and pray for the future of our nation … as though we don't have enough reasons to already.