More is not always better, we know, especially when it comes to food and nutrition. But as far as fruits and vegetables are concerned, we're now being encouraged to load up our plates. Whereas once nutritionists advised us to eat five servings of produce daily, the latest research has them doubling that recommendation. In fact, they say the practice can add years to your life.
How big is a serving? For this discussion, it's 80 grams. So 800 grams of fruits and and vegetables daily, in any combination, is the new magic longevity number, according to scientists at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. That's something like 10 small bananas or apples to 30 tablespoons of cooked spinach, peas, broccoli or cauliflower.
But even if you can't quite bring yourself to go “all in” nutritionally, anything over two servings a day will show some results, the researchers determined. Eating just 200 grams of produce on a daily basis was associated with reductions in: heart disease (by 16 percent); stroke (18 percent); cardiovascular disease (13 percent); cancer risk (4 percent); and premature death (15 percent).
But suck it up and go for the full package of 10 servings and you're golden: a 24 percent reduced risk of heart disease; a 33 percent reduced risk of stroke; a 28 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease; a 13 percent reduced risk of cancer; and a 31 percent reduction in premature death risk.
"Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system,” said study author Dagfinn Aune. "This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold. For instance, they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage, and lead to a reduction in cancer risk.”
If you need to pick and choose and want to zero in on the produce with the most punch, the researchers concluded that these fruits and veggies conferred the best and brightest benefits: apples, pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower), and green and yellow vegetables (such as green beans, spinach, carrots and peppers).
Aune and her colleagues pored over 95 studies that analyzed the nutrition and longevity of nearly 2 million people. But their attempts to draw any kind of hard cause-and-effect relationship between packing away the produce and living a longer life came up dry. Still, Aune could take an educated guess, and believes that “Most likely it is the whole package of beneficial nutrients you obtain by eating fruits and vegetables that is crucial in health.” For this reason she recommends against taking antioxidant and vitamin supplements and going the whole foods route.
The data was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.