Small Changes (Like Eating More Produce) Can Have Ripple Health Effects

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I’ve noticed a tremendous change in the way that Dad and I eat in the past few months. I always thought we did pretty well before by opting for olive oil, limiting trans fats, cutting back on red meat, and eating regular salads.

    But now – thanks to participating in a community shared agriculture program which I described in a previous sharepost – I find that I have a new bounty of vegetables looking at me when I open the refrigerator every Saturday morning. So instead of planning meals like I did before based on specific recipes, I instead plan what we eat based on specific vegetables. And what a variety of vegetables! Just last week we received green beans, broccoli, Swiss chard, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and squash.

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    And the results? Well, Dad’s lost five pounds, as of his last doctor’s appointment. And I feel a refreshing vitality most days thanks to eating this wide variety of produce.

    It turns out that eating all of these vegetables is actually one of two lifestyle changes that can have a ripple effect on your life. (And please note - you don’t have to join a CSA to do it; just spend more time in your local grocery’s produce section or farmer’s market.) A new study out of Northwestern Medicine found that changing one bad habit can have a domino effect on others. The other behavior change that was found to have a ripple effect is turning off the TV or the computer.

    This study, which was just published in Archives of Internal Medicine, involved 204 adults between the ages of 21-60, who ate too much saturated fat and not enough fruits and vegetables. These adults also had too much sedentary leisure time and not enough physical activity. The participants were assigned to one of four groups. One group was tasked with increasing their fruit and vegetable intake and their physical activity. The second group was assigned to decrease their fat intake and their sedentary lifestyle. The third group was asked to decrease their fat consumption and increase their physical activity. And the fourth group was asked to increase their fruit and vegetable intake and decrease their sedentary lifestyle.

    Each group was followed initially for three weeks during which they entered their progress on their respective assignments into a personal digital assistant daily. This progress was sent to a coach who interacted with the participant as needed. Additionally, after the three weeks were over, the participants could earn $175 for meeting their goals. However, when that initial phase was over, study participants did not have to continue the lifestyle changes in order to be paid. Instead, they were asked to send data on three days each month over a six-month period. For doing so, they received up to $80 per month.

    Dr. Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and her research team found that over the time of the whole study, the average servings of fruits and vegetables increased, the average time spent sedentary decreased and the daily calories consumed from saturated fat also dropped.’s Alexandra Sifferlin reported, “The participants who ate more fruits and veggies and spent less time in front of the TV or computer also ended up consuming less saturated fat without really trying.”

  • The researchers found that about 86 percent of the study’s participants maintained the changes that were required in the first three weeks of the study. There was something about increasing fruits and vegetables that made them feel like they were capable of any of these changes. It really enhanced their confidence,” Dr. Spring said.

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    Based on my own experiences, I can see where the findings can ring true for many people. I have to admit that I haven’t changed my evening television-watching habits since that’s the time that Dad and I spend together. And because I currently write for a living, I’m often sitting in front of my computer. But I have found myself taking the dogs on ever-increasing walks on most mornings while the temperature’s still cool. Based on Dr. Spring’s research, I’ll be glad to credit these walks to the vegetables.

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    Northwestern University. 2012. Less couch time equals fewer cookies.

Published On: May 30, 2012