New research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests individuals who consume 7 servings of fruit and vegetables a day may reduce their risk of death by 42% compared to those who eat less than 1 serving a day. The findings come at a time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies are developing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
America’s obesity epidemic weighed heavily in the development of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which placed stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption, increasing physical activity and choosing healthy foods, including more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and fat-free and low-fat dairy items while limiting sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars and refined grains.
For this particular study, researchers at the University College of London used Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population between 2001 and 2013, and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Eating 7 or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31%, respectively. The research also showed that vegetables have significantly higher health benefits than fruit.
This study was the first to link fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause, cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally-representative population, the first to quantify health benefits per-portion, and the first to identify the types of fruit and vegetable with the most benefit.
Compared to eating less than 1 portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating 1-3 portions, 29% for 3-5 portions, 36% for 5-7 portions and 42% for 7 or more.
The study found fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller but still significant 4% reduction.