By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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Coloring the plate every day with one more cup of fruits and vegetables is the rallying cry of +color, a new American Heart Association initiative to encourage Americans to eat healthier.

To kick off the initiative, NBC’s Today show meteorologist Dylan Dreyer helped the organization pass out free fruits and vegetables from the +color food truck Thursday at Union Square near New York University.

The AHA on Friday will host a live YouTube broadcast at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, with an appearance from Dreyer.

“If you’re trying to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, fruits and vegetables can help fill you up,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and past chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee. “It’s almost impossible to overeat fruits and vegetables.”

Three out of four Americans eat a diet low in healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and healthy oils. Unhealthy eating contributes to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diet-related risk factors such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

An extra cup of fruits and vegetables a day can help people reach the recommended two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables, according to the AHA.

NBC’s Today show meteorologist Dylan Dreyer helped pass out free fruits and vegetables from the +color food truck Thursday in New York City.

NBC’s Today show meteorologist Dylan Dreyer helped pass out free fruits and vegetables from the +color food truck Thursday in New York City.

“One cup every day extra for the next 20 years, that’s a whole lot of nutrition,” said Lanette Kovachi, R.D.N., head global dietitian for +color sponsor Subway.

Despite the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables, price and a lack of familiarity may limit their consumption, Johnson said. Low-nutrient junk food tends to be cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables, so cost may be a barrier for a family with limited resources. And people may be unwilling to try fruits or vegetables they’re unfamiliar with. “It may take time” to like a new food, Johnson said.

She suggests buying frozen fruits and vegetables, “which may be cheaper and you can store them longer.” Shopping for sales and shopping seasonally also helps, Johnson said.

Research suggests that eating more fruits and vegetables as a young adult may reduce the risk 20 years later of coronary artery calcium stiffening and narrowing arteries, which can lead to heart disease.  Another study found that eating fruits and vegetables daily  lowered stroke risk.

Unfortunately, those with the most to gain from years of good nutrition aren’t getting it: 14- to 18-year-old girls are eating the least amount of fruit  and vegetables on average, according to federal dietary guidelines. Boys ages 9 to 13 eat the least amount of vegetables.

More people are trying to up their fruits and vegetables, said Kovachi, but “there’s a lot more work to be done. We’re motivating people to get there and giving them an easy opportunity to get plenty of veggies.”

To sweeten the cup-a-day fruit and vegetable challenge, the AHA will provide a series of videos, social media events and interactive digital information.

Colorful foods add visual appeal to the plate, but also “punch up” the nutritional value, Kovachi said. “Highly colored veggies have more vitamins and minerals,” and vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants and phytonutrients that can help limit inflammation and promote overall health, she said.

“Get a whole rainbow of fruits and veggies in your diets to get all those nutrients and antioxidants,” Kovachi said. “Ultimately, our goal with this partnership is to help people lead healthier lives.”

Photo by Diane Bondareff/AP Images for American Heart Association