How much and what food to eat for a longer life? Study suggests daily servings of 2 fruits and 3 vegetables
The optimal intake levels of fruit and vegetables for maintaining long-term health have been uncertain. Researchers now suggest that eating about five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, in which two are fruits and three are vegetables, may be the optimal amount and combination for longer life. Analyzing data representing nearly 2 million adults worldwide, they found that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of death in men and women.
Compared to those who consumed two servings of fruit and vegetables per day, participants who consumed five servings a day of fruits and vegetable had a 13% lower risk of death from all causes; a 12% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke; a 10% lower risk of death from cancer; and a 35% lower risk of death from respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), suggests the report. The findings have been published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
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According to health experts, diets rich in fruits and vegetables help reduce the risk for multiple chronic health conditions that are leading causes of death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. The American Heart Association also recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that only about one in 10 adults eat enough fruits or vegetables.
“While groups like the American Heart Association recommend four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers likely get inconsistent messages about what defines optimal daily intake of fruits and vegetables such as the recommended amount, and which foods to include and avoid,” said lead study author Dr Dong D Wang, an epidemiologist, nutritionist and a member of the medical faculty at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The team wanted to understand what is the “right mix” of fruits and vegetables for long-term health. They emphasize that it was also important to investigate the potentially distinct health effects of various subgroups of fruit and vegetables, and fruit juices and potatoes, as well.
They looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, two studies including more than 100,000 adults who were followed for up to 30 years. Both datasets included detailed dietary information repeatedly collected every two to four years. They also pooled data on fruit and vegetable intake and death from 26 studies that included about 1.9 million participants from 29 countries and territories in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
The investigators found that intake of about five servings of fruits and vegetables daily was associated with the lowest risk of death. Eating more than five servings was not associated with any additional benefit. Eating about two servings daily of fruits and three servings daily of vegetables was associated with the greatest longevity.
Not all foods that one might consider to be fruits and vegetables offered the same benefits. Starchy vegetables, such as peas and corn, fruit juices, and potatoes, for example, were not associated with reduced risk of death from all causes or specific chronic diseases. On the other hand, green leafy vegetables, including spinach, lettuce and kale, and fruit and vegetables rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries and carrots, showed benefits.
The findings support current US dietary recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables and the simple public health message of “5-a-day,” say researchers. “This amount likely offers the most benefit in terms of prevention of major chronic disease and is a relatively achievable intake for the general public. We also found that not all fruits and vegetables offer the same degree of benefit, even though current dietary recommendations generally treat all types of fruits and vegetables, including starchy vegetables, fruit juices and potatoes, the same,” said Wang.
According to Dr Anne Thorndike, chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, this research provides strong evidence for the lifelong benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and suggests a goal amount to consume daily for ideal health. “Fruits and vegetables are naturally packaged sources of nutrients that can be included in most meals and snacks, and they are essential for keeping our hearts and bodies healthy,” she explained.
Dr Naveed Sattar from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, noted that the take-home point is that “food is indeed medicine,” and that health professionals and governments would do well to up their games to improve dietary intakes at individual and population levels. “Increasing people’s enjoyment for and intakes of fruit and vegetables must be a key part of future dietary interventions. In the post-Covid-19 world, where diets and other health behaviors have been adversely impacted due to lockdowns, more, not less, needs to be done to tackle the epidemic of unhealthy eating,” he advised.