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Diet Disaster: Failing the Fruit & Veggie Test

Have you ever spent hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of dollars for a commercial diet plan, like Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem? A MoneyWatch analysis of the diets that cost the most and least per pound found that dieters spent as much as $224 to lose a single pound when they subscribed to some commercial diets.

People could lose weight far more cheaply -- and keep it off -- if they increased their intake of fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber -- the stuff that fills you up -- and low in calories, says Jessica Hummel, a nutrition counselor with The Biggest Loser Resort in Malibu. Each serving of vegetables has only about 35 calories, Hummel said, while a serving of fruit has between 60 and 110 calories.

But a new study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that Americans are increasingly failing the fruit and vegetable test, eating fewer portions of fruit today than they did in 2000. While vegetable consumption is about the same, only about 26.7% of Americans eat the recommended three servings of veggies each day. Just 34.4% eat the recommended two servings of fruit.

The study, which takes a state-by-state approach to produce consumption, also closely correlates with an earlier study on the rising rate of obesity, showing that states that eat the least fruit and veggies -- such as Alabama -- also are among those with the highest obesity rates.

A movie called Food Inc. found that some people skip the fresh fruit and vegetables because they think they're too expensive. Certainly, when you compare the cost of broccoli to McDonald's $1 meals, it seems that way.

But just one Big Mac is going to load you up with 540 calories -- more than one quarter of all the calories you should consume in a day, if you're aiming for a 2,000 calorie daily diet. Add in an order of fries, and half the calories you should consume have been consumed and you're missing out on most of the nutrients you need. That hikes the risk that you'll eat more -- your body craves the nutrients it needs to survive -- and end up with a host of overeating-related diseases, from diabetes to high blood pressure.

You could could eat almost 10 servings of vegetables and 5 of fruit before you consumed the same number of calories as you consumed in a BigMac with fries. That could keep you full all day, said Hummel, who also writes a blog called A Healthy Medium.

"Fruit and vegetables give you a lot of bulk, so you're not as hungry," Hummel said. "That allows you to lose weight without feeling deprived."

And if you think fresh produce is expensive, consider how much it would cost to get those same vitamins and minerals through supplements. NewMark "fruit and vegetable" powder costs $50 per 30 servings. That's about $1.67 per dose--or about four times the cost of an apple.

The one trick is that people have trouble knowing the size of a "serving," Hummel added.

"I think that most people underestimate the right serving size of fruits and veggies,thinking that they are getting enough with one piece of asparagus per day,"And they overestimate the serving size of starches/healthy fats/proteins, which play the big part in weight gain."

What's a serving? It's probably less than you think. According to diet site Spark People, one serving of bread is a piece about the size of an index card. One serving of fruit juice would amount to 6 ounces and would measure about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of protein? A 3 ounce piece of chicken-- that's about the size of a deck of cards, Hummel said. A healthy fat serving would be one-half of a small avocado.

Want to know what's happened to obesity rates in your state? Here's the CDC's latest state-by-state analysis:

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