Fruits and vegetables have been known to fight the good fight when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer, says choosemyplate.gov. Yet some may ask: Exactly how much should we eat to get the optimal benefits?
Scientists at Imperial College London culled data from 95 fruit and vegetable consumption studies to find the answer. Their conclusion?
Five a day is good, but 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day could significantly lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and premature death.
That number sounds daunting, but if the world followed their suggestion, up to 7.8 million premature deaths could be avoided, they said.
“Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system,” the study’s author, Dr. Dagfinn Aune, said in a news release. “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."
Fruits and vegetables are laden with nutrients and phytochemicals:
- Fiber– helps you maintain a healthy weight, lowering your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Vitamin C – an essential nutrient that helps your body absorb iron.
- Beta-carotene – an antioxidant thought to improve cognitive function, promote good skin health, lung health, and prevent cancer.
- Antioxidants – known to counteract free radicals, which are found in pollution and trigger cell damage through oxidization.
- Potassium – controls the electrical balance of your health.
Antioxidants are key. Found especially in fruit, antioxidants could reduce DNA damage, while the glucosinolates in green leafy vegetables act like detoxifiers for your gut. Fiber helps with digestion and nutrient absorption.
The Imperial College London researchers said high intake of fruits and vegetables could indirectly affect the risk of chronic diseases because there’s less room to consume high-fat, high-sodium, and other unhealthy foods when you’re satisfying your appetite with so much produce.
Fruits and vegetables deliver benefits that are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate, Aune said.
“Most likely it is the whole package of beneficial nutrients you obtain by eating fruits and vegetables that is crucial [to] health,” he said in the news release from Imperial College London. “This is why it is important to eat whole plant foods to get the benefit, instead of taking antioxidant or vitamin supplements (which have not been shown to reduce disease risk).”
The cost of good health
Some could argue that many servings of fruits and vegetables can raise their grocery bill to higher than what they budgeted.
No one is arguing that healthy foods can cost more than packaged, processed food. But consider the “investment.”
Eating healthy only costs about $1.50 more per day per person, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The extra $1.50 is “trivial” compared to the massive health benefits of eating a nutritious diet, researchers said.
Average versus over-achieving eaters
Scientists said people eating about 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables could see a reduction of risk by 16% for heart disease, 18% for stroke, and 13% for cardiovascular disease.
But as intake increased to fourfold that amount – about 10 cups a day – the benefits were dramatic, compared to those who didn’t eat fruits or vegetables. According to the study, the reduction in risk rates was:
- 24% for heart disease.
- 33% for stroke.
- 28% for cardiovascular disease.
- 14% for total cancer.
- 31% for dying prematurely.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends half of your diet include fruits and vegetables – about 4 cups/servings for women and 5 cups/servings for men, according to choosemyplate.gov, where you can find helpful charts on how much to eat by day or by week.
Only one in ten adults get enough fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Understanding the benefits of eating this much produce, plus seeing the potential reduction in risk of the most deadly diseases in the nation, could influence those who have trouble choosing a whole fruit instead of, say, a cupcake.
Is 10 servings a day even possible?
To put this into perspective, fruit and vegetable consumption that meets the 4½ to 5 serving a day quota could include: two medium carrots, a half of a large apple, ¼ cup of raisins, a side salad and a large banana.
Now, double that.
Try a cup of tomato juice for breakfast, followed by a large banana (that’s two servings). Munch an entire large apple for a mid-morning snack (there’s another two). Grab a cup of cooked spinach at lunch to round out your meal. Throw in another cup of cooked corn, and your lunch just tackled two servings of vegetables! Just four more servings to go.
Do you like strawberries? Eight large berries covers snack time, and another fruit serving. For dinner, toss some broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or asparagus in your meal or on the side. Double up your dinner veggie portions – and that leaves one more serving to go. Time for dessert! How about a fruit cocktail with pears, peaches, and a mandarin orange?
Consider this – a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables could have a positive effect. Whether from the risk reductions mentioned here, or by the simple fact that these healthy foods displace processed or high-fat foods, there are definitely potential benefits to packing in the produce.
Things to Consider:
- Start small. Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption a little at a time. Refer to choosemyplate.gov for government-recommended serving information.
- Don’t be intimidated. Serving sizes are smaller than you think. Use these fruit and vegetable charts for reference. A large salad can knock out quite a few servings.
- Explore new recipes. You’re bound to find delicious ways to cook healthy veggies you’ll love.
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