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8 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Don’t Eat Enough Fruits and Veggies

You might not love ’em, but here’s why you should eat your fruits and veggies anyway.

You could become deficient in vitamins and minerals

Fruits and vegetables contain some of the most vital nutrients for our health, but a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that only one in 10 adults ate the USDA-recommended three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit a day. So what can happen if you don’t get enough fruits and veggies? Nutritional deficiencies, according to Laura Moore, RD, a registered dietitian at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, which can lead to unpleasant side effects. Although you could get many of these vitamins and minerals from other foods, produce usually contains high concentrations of them—and many other antioxidants besides. If you aren’t getting enough, here are the 10 ways your body is trying to tell you you’re running low on vitamins.

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You could develop digestive problems

Without fruits and veggies, you’re more prone to digestive ailments such as constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis. “Fruits and vegetables contain cellulose, which increases stool weight, eases passage, and reduces transit time,” Moore explains. In addition, they contain fiber, which Moore says “helps to alleviate or prevent constipation, stimulates the GI tract muscles so they retain their strength and resist bulging out into pouches called diverticula, and reduces pressure on the lower bowel, making it less likely for rectal veins to swell which causes hemorrhoids.” A study from Harvard Medical School showed that a diet high in dietary fiber, which fruits and veggies provide, reduces the risk for diverticulitis. Here are the easiest ways to get more fiber in your diet.

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Your risk of cancer increases

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), no one food can protect you against cancer—but a diet filled with plant-based foods can help lower your cancer risk. “Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and carotenoids may reduce cancer risks by protecting healthy cells from free radicals,” says Moore. “Carotenoids—pigments including beta-carotene, which can be found in spinach, other dark leafy greens, deep orange fruits, sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots—may protect against cellular damage and have been associated with lower rates of cancer.” In addition, consuming too much fat has been linked to cancer; so replacing those unhealthy foods with a diet high in fruits and veggies will lower your risk—as will these 30 other foods that can also lower your risk of getting cancer.

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You may gain weight

If you’re not eating fruits and veggies, you’re probably loading up on high-calorie, high-fat foods instead. Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the more fruits and vegetables you eat, the less weight you gain—unless the only vegetables you eat are the starchy kind (think potatoes, peas, and corn). “Most often the diet containing foods that are high in energy density—meaning more calories per gram—leads to overeating and weight gain,” Moore says. “Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and low in energy density. Therefore, one can eat more and feel more satisfied with fewer calories.”

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You’re more likely to develop diabetes

Because weight gain is associated with diabetes, you increase your risk for diabetes when you eat fatty, processed foods instead of fruits and vegetables. “As being overweight is the most important risk factor for type 2 diabetes mellitus, studies have shown that an increased consumption of vegetables and fruit might indirectly reduce the incidence of it,” Moore says. A study published in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation found that eating more produce—especially leafy greens, berries, as well as yellow and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, say—was associated with lower diabetes risk. In addition, if you already have diabetes, Moore says not eating fruits and veggies can make it worse. For a person with diabetes, “consuming carbohydrates such as breads, rice, pasta, and or processed foods can cause blood sugar to soar out of control,” she says. “Replacing these foods with low-carbohydrate vegetables like dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, and whole fruits can help regulate glucose levels.” Ready to load up on great nutrition? These are some of the healthiest fruits for your body.

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Your blood pressure may rise

Eating foods that are high in sodium while not getting enough fruits and vegetables will raise your blood pressure for sure. That’s why focusing on diets that increase the servings of produce, like the Mediterranean diet or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), can prevent high blood pressure—and in people who already had hypertension, lower it. “Following a diet high in fruits and vegetables—rich in nutrients such as potassium, calcium and magnesium and low in sodium—helps reduce the sodium in your diet, thereby lowering blood pressure,” Moore says.

stethoscope on a cardiac rhythm print outiStock/Valeriya

You have a greater risk for heart disease

In part because of the effect of lowering blood pressure, eating lots of fruits and vegetables can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. A long-term, large-scale study published in the British Medical Journal showed that people lowered their risk of dying of cardiovascular disease by 4 percent for every serving of fruits and vegetables they eat. And if you’re contemplating becoming a vegetarian, here’s what happens to your body when you go vegan.

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You could be headed for depression

Researchers are just beginning to look into the connection between what we eat and our mental health. A large study found that people who ate more produce tended to lower their risk of developing depression. It’s not known yet exactly why fruits and veggies may have this protective effect on mental health, but Moore says deficiencies in nutrients such as pantothenic acid and vitamin B6 could possibly be the cause of depression in those who don’t consume enough of them. Now that you’re inspired to up your produce consumption, check out the 50 best healthy eating tips of all time.

Sources
  • Laura Moore, RD, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, University of Texas
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Disparities in State-Specific Adult Fruit and Vegetable Consumption — United States, 2015.”
  • BioRxiv. “Intake of dietary fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and risk of diverticulitis.”
  • Plos Medicine. “Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis from Three Prospective Cohort Studies.”
  • Journal of Diabetes Investigation. “Higher intake of fruits, vegetables or their fiber reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes: A meta-analysis.”
  • Current Hypertension Reports. “Dietary Approaches to Prevent Hypertension.”
  • British Medical Journal. “Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.”
  • Nutrition. “Fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of depression: A meta-analysis.”
Medically reviewed by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RDN, CSSD, on October 15, 2019