The Right ‘5 a Day’ Mix for Longer Life: Two Fruit, Three Vegetable Servings

Only 1 in 10 Americans eats the ideal ratio of fruits and veggies that is key to promoting a long, healthy life.

(Image by RitaE from Pixabay)

(CN) — New research shows that the ideal diet for a longer life consists of a bit more than just an apple a day, and actually requires a mix of two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day.

The study, conducted by the American Heart Association and published Monday in the journal Circulation, included data from almost 2 million adults and discussed in detail the best produce to add to your daily intake.

Evidence shows that fruits and vegetables provide a multitude of health benefits and are a vital part of a balanced diet. They contain important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they’re a good source of fiber, and they help to combat adverse health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. 

They can also help reduce blood pressure, maintain healthy eyesight, promote good digestive health, and much more. 

Despite this, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only one in 10 individuals eats the recommended amount of fruits and veggies a day. Additionally, only 12% of people eat enough fruit, only 9% eat enough vegetables, and consumption is the lowest among men, young adults and individuals living in poverty. Some possible barriers include lack of accessibility and high costs.

“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 author Dong Wang, M.D. an epidemiologist, nutritionist and a member of the medical faculty at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Wang and his team wanted to streamline the various data on this topic and provide the most accurate, up to date, comprehensive information about how to tailor your diet to fit your health goals.

The team looked at a number of studies in their research, including the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Both studies, which were decades in the making, followed over 100,000 adults for up to 30 years, collecting updated dietary information every 2-4 years. The rest of the data came from an additional 26 studies consisting of 1.9 million individuals across six continents, which addressed the correlation between fruit and vegetable filled diets and death.

The results found that the lowest risk of death was achieved by eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, specifically two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables. They also found that individuals who ate all five servings compared to those who ate only two saw a 35% decreased risk of respiratory disease, a 12% decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 10% decreased risk of cancer.

“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,” Wang said in regards to the 5-a-day rule. “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.”

It’s important to realize that not all fruits and vegetables offer the same health benefits, and a variety is ideal to obtain all the desired nutrients. Based on their evidence, the authors said that starchy foods such as peas, corn, potatoes, and fruit juices did not offer an increased resilience to adverse health conditions. 

Instead, some of the most successful food items included leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and lettuce. Fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C and beta carotene, otherwise known as the red-orange pigment seen in carrots, peaches, cantaloupe, and more, also yielded positive results. Some other beneficial fruits included citrus food items and berries.

Whole spinach, beets, and kale. (Credit: American Heart Association)

“Our analysis in the two cohorts of U.S. men and women yielded results similar to those from 26 cohorts around the world, which supports the biological plausibility of our findings and suggests these findings can be applied to broader populations,” Wang said.

The researchers added that their study could possibly be limited by obtaining all their data through observation gathered over time. While their research proved an association with longevity and fruit and vegetable consumption, they disclose that their evidence does not show direct cause and effect.

“The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal,” said 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 added.

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