The right combination of fruits and vegetables for a longer life
A higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of death in men and women, according to data representing almost 2 million adults. Five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, i.e. 2 servings of fruits and 3 servings of vegetables, can be the optimal amount and combination for a longer life. These findings support current dietary recommendations in the US to eat more fruits and vegetables, the message being short and straight to the point: “5 a day”.
Diets rich in fruits and vegetables help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases that lead to death, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, only about 1 in 10 adults eat enough fruit or vegetables, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While groups such as the American Heart Association recommend four to five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers are likely to receive vague messages about what defines the optimal daily intake of fruits and vegetables, such as the recommended amount and what foods to avoid,” said study lead author Dong D. Wang, MD, Sc.D., epidemiologist, nutritionist and member of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Wang and colleagues analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, two important studies that included more than 100,000 adults who were followed for up to 30 years. Both data sets included detailed dietary information, collected every 2-4 years. For this analysis, the researchers also combined data on the correlation of fruit and vegetable intake and death from 26 studies, which included approximately 1.9 million participants from 29 countries and territories in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
The analysis of all studies, with a composite of over 2 million participants, revealed the following: the daily intake of about five servings of fruits and vegetables was associated with the lowest risk of death. Consumption of more than five servings was not associated with additional benefits.
Also, the consumption of about two daily servings of fruits and three daily servings of vegetables was associated with the highest longevity.
Compared to those who ate two servings of fruits and vegetables a day, participants who ate five 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;
- a 35% lower risk of death from respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
However, not all foods offered the same benefits. For example: starchy vegetables such as peas and corn, fruit juices and potatoes have not been associated with a reduced risk of death from all specific causes or chronic diseases.
On the other hand, green leafy vegetables, including spinach, salad and cabbage, as well as fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries and carrots, have shown benefits.
“Our analysis of the two cohorts of men and women in the United States gave similar results to those of 26 cohorts around the world, which supports the biological plausibility of our findings and suggests that these findings may be applied to larger populations,” Wang said.
He also said that this study identifies an optimal level of fruit and vegetable intake and supports the brief message of “5 a day”, which means that people should ideally consume five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This figure probably offers the greatest benefit in terms of preventing major chronic diseases and is a relatively achievable contribution for the general public, he said. “We also found that not all fruits and vegetables offer the same benefits, even though current dietary recommendations generally treat all types of fruits and vegetables the same, including starchy vegetables, fruit juices and potatoes.”
A limitation of research? The fact that it is observational, showing an association between fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of death; it does not confer a direct cause-effect relationship. “The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you fill at least half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal,” said Anne Thor.
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