7 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Don't Eat Enough Vegetables

Woman covering her mouth while looking at plate of vegetables.

"Eat your veggies" may have been a regular command at the dinner table when you were growing up. It may not have stuck. Maybe you don't like veggies, or maybe your on-the-go lifestyle makes the drive-thru a more accessible option. Perhaps you enjoyed doing the opposite of what your parents told you to do (and still do as an adult). You may have asked your parents, "Not eating enough fruit and vegetables will cause what to happen, exactly?"

You're probably not alone. One older CDC report published in 2017 indicated that only 9.3% of U.S. adults consumed enough veggies in 2015. Fruit fared only slightly better, with 12.2% of adults meeting daily recommendations. Health organizations like the American Heart Association suggest getting 4 to 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily if you follow a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.

"Vegetables are a powerhouse for health," says Kalyn True, RD, a registered dietitian with Memorial Hermann. "They're packed with essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber."

Combined, these key nutrients do the body a lot of good. So what happens if you don't eat vegetables or regularly skip out on the daily recommendations? Registered dietitians dished and offered advice on increasing your intake of these powerhouse foods (and their produce-aisle siblings, fruit).

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What Happens If You Don't Eat Vegetables

1. Fiber intake decreases

Many people don't eat enough vegetables. Research published in 2017 pointed to data suggesting that only about 5% of Americans meet daily fiber recommendations. Coincidence?

Probably not—at least not in some instances. "Skipping a serving of veggies means you’re not getting any of the key nutrients it would provide, including fiber," explains Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD of Street Smart Nutrition. "This adds up, and consistently low fiber intake can take a toll on your gut health or overall health."

You may find yourself rather backed up on the regular (instead of being regular). "A lack of vegetables in one’s diet defaults to a lack of fiber, resulting in irregular bowel movements and gastrointestinal distress,' says Daniel Chavez, RD, of Fay.

2. Risk of illness goes up

Veggies can help you feel well and live your best, longest life. "Not eating enough fruits and vegetables regularly can increase the risk of many health conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke," says Jennifer Hernandez, RD, of Plant-Powered Kidneys.

And in general, not getting enough vegetables weakens the immune system.

"Without a steady supply of vitamins and antioxidants from vegetables, the immune system might struggle to fight off even the sniffles," True says.

3. You'll probably have less energy.

Are you trying to pinpoint an energy vampire? Consider your veggie intake. "Vegetables fuel your body's engine," True says. "They provide essential vitamins and minerals that help convert food into energy. If you constantly skip vegetables, people might feel tired and sluggish throughout the day, making it challenging to concentrate or keep up with your daily activities."

4. You may be thirstier

Yep, food can help quench your thirst. That idea that all of your fluid intake absolutely must come from 8 glasses of water daily? A total myth.

"With their high water content, vegetables contribute to our overall fluid intake each day," Harbstreet says. "You could indeed source all the fluids you need from water and other beverages, but a serving of vegetables 'counts' towards staying well hydrated. Without it, you will have to rely more on sipping throughout the day to make up for what you aren’t getting from food sources."

5. Skin issues can pop up

Achieving solid skincare from the "outside-in" has at least one RD's stamp of approval. "Vegetables contain nutrients like vitamin A and antioxidants that promote healthy skin," Chavez says. "Without enough vegetables, dull, dry, acne, premature aging and other skin issues may ensue."

Hernandez adds that nutrient-dense veggies also aid in wound healing.

6. You might gain weight

The number on the scale is not the be-all, end-all of health or nutrition. However, not eating enough vegetables may prompt weight gain. "Not eating enough fruits and vegetables may lead to unintentional weight gain as we fill up on higher calorie foods," Hernandez says.

A 2018 review published in Nutrients indicated "moderate quality evidence" between veggie consumption and weight. The researchers also noted no apparent harm from eating veggies, so recommending people eat more for weight loss and maintenance isn't a bad idea.

7. Nothing

Surprised? "If you’re eating multiple servings of fruit and sourcing key nutrients from other sources, skipping vegetables may not make any noticeable difference for you," Harbstreet says. Odd as that may sound coming from a dietitian, you might be getting adequate nutrition from other foods."

That doesn't mean you should ditch veggies. "In my experience, this isn’t the case for most people," Harbstreet says. "While possible, it’s not likely, so just to be on the safe side, don’t eliminate them from your overall diet."

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What Happens If You Don't Eat Fruit?

Essentially, the same things that happen if you don't eat enough veggies. Different fruits and vegetables have different nutrients—hence, the recommendation to "eat the rainbow"—and benefits.

"Similar to a lack of vegetable intake, there may be consequences of not eating enough fruit regularly," Chavez says. "Like veggies, fruits are rich in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants."

These nutrients can help with:

  • Immune health

  • Fiber intake

  • Lower disease risk

  • Hydration

  • More energy

  • Improved weight outcomes, like loss or maintenance as applicable

  • Better skin health

Related: These Are the 20 Healthiest Vegetables Of All Time, According to Registered Dietitians

How to Actually Like Eating Veggies

Have a hard time fitting all your veggies in? Here are tips to get more vegetables—and like it.

1. Slice and dice

Have some fun with how you serve veggies. "Yes, the same tactic that works for young kids can be helpful for adults, too," Harbstreet says. "Chop or slice raw veggies into novel shapes or use something like a crinkle cutter to add texture and visual appeal. Anything to entice you or draw interest is a good thing and doesn’t require much more effort than the chopping and slicing you’d do regardless."

2. Try different cooking methods

Steamed or boiled veggies get the job done quickly. However, consider having some fun and experimenting in the kitchen.

"Roasting, grilling or stir-frying to bring out different flavors and textures can encourage even a picky eater to consume them," Chavez says.

3. Get colorful

This one can't go unsaid. "Incorporate a variety of colors into meals," Chavez says. "Bright and vibrant colors can be visually appealing and enticing."

Think red, green and yellow peppers in a salad for lunch and carrots and cauliflower beside salmon for dinner.

4. Be sneaky

Another parent-preferred hack that works with adults, too.

"Try adding grated zucchini to your muffins, riced cauliflower to your stir-fry, or pureed spinach to your pasta sauce," True says. "They add moisture and nutrients without overpowering the taste."

Hernandez shared another idea. "Stack veggies into sandwiches," she said. "It’s a great way to add texture and flavor into a sandwich. Try thin-sliced radishes for a spicy kick."

5. Spice it up

Not into the taste? Dipping foods into high-fat dressing can lead to excess calorie consumption, but that doesn't mean your veggies need to be boring.

"Use herbs [and] spices healthy sauces to enhance the flavor of vegetables that would otherwise be bland to a non-veggie eater," Chavez says. "Experiment with different combinations to find out what is most appealing to taste buds."

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