We all know fruits and vegetables are an important part of our overall health, but new research suggests people who eat up to seven servings of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce the risk of death by up to 42 percent.
Researchers from the University College London found that eating fruits and vegetables was linked with a lower risk of death from any cause, especially at deaths as a result of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The higher a person’s intake of fruit and vegetables, the greater the protective effects seemed to be.
“We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” said Oyinlola Oyebode, an epidemiologist at UCL. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”
Scientists used data from the Health Survey for England to examine the diets of over 65,000 people between 2001 and 2013. They discovered that the more fruit and vegetables people ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Consuming seven or more portions was found to reduce the specific risks of death by cancer 25 percent, and heart disease 31 percent.
When compared to consuming less than one portion of fruit or vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is cut by 14 percent when a person consumes one to three portions daily, 29 percent for three to five portions, 36 percent for five to seven portions and 42 percent for seven or more.
Eating vegetables was associated with greater reductions in risk of death than eating the same number of fruit portions.
The researchers also looked at the type of fruit and vegetable consumption and found that consumption of vegetables, salad, fresh fruit and dried fruit were associated with decreased risk of death from any cause.
However, consumption of frozen or canned fruit was associated with an increased risk of death 17 percent, a find that doctors from the University of Liverpool called “intriguing.” They said the added sugars of these processed foods could be to blame and suggested that dietary guideline should be revised to reflect this find.
“150 ml of freshly squeezed orange juice (sugar 13 g); 30 g of dried figs (sugar 14 g); 200 ml of a smoothie made with fruit and fruit juice (sugar 23 g) and 80 g of tinned fruit salad in fruit juice (sugar 10 g)…contain a total of some 60 g of refined sugar,” they wrote. “This is more than the sugar in a 500 ml bottle of cola.”
“Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup rather than fruit juice,” Oyebode said. “The negative health impacts of the sugar may well outweigh any benefits. Another possibility is that there are confounding factors that we could not control for, such as poor access to fresh groceries among people who have pre-existing health conditions, hectic lifestyles or who live in deprived areas.”
This study provides further evidence of the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables; however, it is limited by the possibility that other factors could have been responsible for the outcomes. In the study, people who consumed more fruit and vegetables were generally older, less likely to smoke, more likely to be women, be of a higher social class and have a higher standard of education.
The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.