New research shows that, while getting your five fruits and vegetables a day is still recommended, seven or more servings of fruit and veggies can help keep you healthier for longer.
The study, conducted in the UK by researchers at the University College London, saw scientists use data from the Health Survey for England so they could examine the eating habits and lifestyles of in total 65,226 men and women. For the purposes of this research, which was published late last month in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the scientists limited themselves to the time period between 2001 to 2008 in order to get a snapshot of the participants’ diets. The researchers then looked for things like when people died and what they died of, such as cancer, heart disease or a stroke.
What the researchers found was that the more fruit and vegetables the subjects ate, the less likely they were to die no matter what age they were. Simple. While traditionally we are often told that when it comes to fruit and veg, “five-a-day” is the goal to aim for, this new piece of research suggests that a diet where people consumed about 7 portions of fruit and veg a day (about 80 g or 3 oz a portion) might be key. When the participants ate seven or more portions (up to 10), the risk of death from any health related cause dropped by as much as 42 percent. At least seven fruits or vegetables a day also appeared to have a particular affect in cutting cancer (25 percent) and heart disease (31 percent).
There are some interesting things to note about what didn’t help, however. Fruit juices appeared to confer no benefit, while canned fruit appeared to increase the likelihood of dying. The researchers can’t say exactly why this is but have hazarded a guess that it may be have to do with the fact that a lot of canned fruit comes in a syrup that is high in sugar.
Dr Oyebode goes on to say that if someone is only managing three portions a day, the research showed that even those smaller portions can count toward a healthier life. The focus, then, should be on gradually increasing that intake no matter the starting point. Ultimately, Dr Oyebode believes that seven portions should be the minimum, but up to ten would be a good aim as this research showed the more the better.
However, as with all scientific research, we have to look at the limits of the study.
An interesting criticism of this research is that the study doesn’t adequately control for the fact that if you are eating in excess of seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day, it’s unlikely that you leave much room for foods that are considered bad for us, for instance those with trans fats or those that are high in so-called empty calories like sugary or salty snacks. Therefore, the study can’t actually tell us whether it is the addition of more fruits and vegetables to participants’ diets that is making them healthier, or whether it’s the subtraction of the bad foods that is really making the difference with these numbers.
The researchers also readily admit that there may be other lifestyle factors at play here too. For instance, those who are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables in greater numbers are also probably more health conscious and as a result may not smoke, would drink alcohol in moderation and would be likely to take at least some exercise. These are all things that other research has shown appears to, in some cases dramatically, cut mortality rates and keep us healthier for longer.
In essence, more research needs to be done to pin down exactly the right balance of different lifestyle factors. That doesn’t necessarily negate the underlying premise in this research, though: a diet which is focused on fresh fruit and vegetables appears to not only allow us to be healthy in the short term but could help us live healthier and for longer. With that in mind, here are some resources that can help you take action to improve your diet:
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