For years, we’ve heard—and current guidelines continue to tell us—that we can reduce our risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other chronic diseases by eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. But a new study says the real magic kicks in with 10!
This new study was actually an analysis of 95 other studies, and it was led by Dr. Dagfinn Aune of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom. The results were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The team concluded that when people consumed 800 grams of fruits and vegetables daily (or around 10 portions of 80 grams each) they experienced the lowest risk of disease and premature death.
Researchers Set Out to Ask, How Much is Best?
Dr. Aune’s research team intentionally designed their study determine exactly what quantity of fruits and vegetables in the daily diet resulted in maximum protection against disease and early death. As mentioned, analyzed the data of 95 completed studies on the health benefits of fruit and vegetables. The 95 studies included:
- Almost 2 million participants
- 43,000 cases of heart disease
- 47,000 cases of stroke
- 81,000 cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- 94,000 deaths
Dr. Aune’s team analyzed the fruit and vegetable intake of every participant in all 95 studies—not just how much produce they consumed, but also what type. A single portion was defined as 80 grams. For reference, that’s about one small banana, apple, or pear, or three large tablespoons of cooked veggies.
Finally, the team analyzed the link between fruit and veggie consumption and risk of heart disease, stroke, CVD, cancer, and premature death.
The More, the Better
The team found—not surprisingly—that almost any amount of fruits and vegetables was better than eating none. Participants who ate a mere 200 grams of produce daily, which is only about 2.5 servings, saw health benefits compared to those who ate no fruits and veggies. The 200 gram group experienced:
- 18% reduced risk of stroke
- 16% reduced risk of heart disease
- 13% lower risk of CVD
- 4% reduced risk of cancer
- 15% lower risk of premature death
However, the more fruits and vegetables participants ate each day, the more dramatic health benefits they experienced.
The Magic of 10
Participants who ate 800 grams (10 portions) of fruits and vegetables each day experienced giant health gains compared to those who ate none. The 10-serving group had:
- 33% lower risk of stroke
- 28% reduced risk of CVD
- 24% lower risk of heart disease
- 13% decrease in cancer risk.
- 31% reduction in premature death
The team concluded that if everyone in the world ate 10 portions of fruits and vegetables daily, about 7.8 million premature deaths could be prevented each year.
Best Fruits for Specific Benefits
Specific types of fruits and vegetables appeared to offer protection against specific disease and conditions. For example, for protection against stroke, CVD, heart disease, and premature death, the produce that packed the best punch included:
- Citrus fruits
- Green leafy vegetables (such as chicory and spinach)
- Cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage and broccoli)
For warding off cancer, the most protective produce included:
- Green vegetables (such as green beans)
- Yellow vegetables (such as peppers and carrots)
- Cruciferous vegetables
Dr. Aune said of the findings: “We need further research into the effects of specific types of fruits and vegetables and preparation methods of fruit and vegetables. We also need more research on the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake with causes of death other than cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, it is clear from this work that a high intake of fruit and vegetables hold tremendous health benefits, and we should try to increase their intake in our diet.”
5 Ways to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Even with the best intentions, many people fall short of the recommended intake for fruits and vegetables. Here are five excellent, easy ways to incorporate more of these important foods into your diet.
- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day: make sure you meet your fruit and vegetable intake goals by having a serving or two in the morning.
- Prepare your snacks in advance: keep a bowl on your counter with apples and other hand fruits at the ready, and fill your refrigerator with carrot sticks, slices of bell peppers, or other veggies you enjoy eating. That way, when hunger strikes, you can quickly grab and healthy option.
- Stock your freezer: frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh ones, and will keep for months. Prices are affordable to begin with, and retailers often discount these items. Stock up when you see a sale!
- Take a veggies-first approach to meal planning: make vegetables the centerpiece of your meals, and treat proteins and grains as accompaniments.
- Treat your sweet tooth with nature’s candy: many of us have taste buds acclimated to high doses of sugar and artificial sweeteners, but fruits are plenty sweet enough all on their own. Try to reset your palate! And when you do want a more indulgent dessert, try to find a way to incorporate fruit—for instance, by adding a sauce of pureed berries.