Is there a magic number when it comes to good health and longevity?
According to new research it’s five.
The number comes from an observational study of nearly two million adult participants worldwide, which found that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of death in men and women.
Five servings a day of fruit and vegetables, comprising two serves of fruit and three serves of vegetables a day, was identified as the optimal amount and combination for a longer life.
The research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation this week found that people with high fruit and vegetable intake had a reduced risk of a range of chronic health conditions that are leading killers including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Eating more than five servings or fruit and vegetables did not yield any additional benefits, the study found.
“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,” study lead author Dong D. Wang, an epidemiologist and nutritionist from Harvard Medical School said.
Three serves of veg and two serves of fruit “likely offers the most benefit in terms of prevention of major chronic disease and is a relatively achievable intake for the general public,” Dr Wang said.
Dr Wang and colleagues analysed data on fruit and vegetable intake and death from about 1.9 million participants across 29 countries including Australia.
Compared to those who consumed two servings of fruit and vegetables per day, participants who consumed five servings a day of fruit and vegetables had a 13 per cent lower risk of death from all causes; a 12 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke; a 10 per cent lower risk of death from cancer; and a 35 per cent lower risk of death from respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Some fruits and vegetables better than others
While ‘five-a-day’ is a good rule of thumb, the types of fruits and vegetables you eat can make a big difference.
“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,” Dr Wang said.
Starchy vegetables such as peas and corn, and fruit juices and potatoes were not associated with reduced risk of death from all causes or specific chronic diseases, the researchers found.
By contrast, green leafy vegetables, including spinach, lettuce and kale, were powerhouses, as were fruit and vegetables rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries and carrots.
Filling “at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal” is recommended, Harvard Medical School professor of medicine Anne Thorndike said.
“This research provides strong evidence for the life-long benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and suggests a goal amount to consume daily for ideal health,” Professor Thorndike said.
“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.”
What does a standard serve look like?
A standard serve of vegetables is about 75g (100–350kJ) or:
- ½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots or pumpkin)
- ½ cup cooked dried or canned beans, peas or lentils (preferably with no added salt)
- 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
- ½ cup sweet corn
- ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables (sweet potato, taro or cassava)
- 1 medium tomato
A standard serve of fruit is about 150g (350kJ) or:
- 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
- 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
- 1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar)