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It’s a commonly asked question: How many servings of fruits and vegetables do we actually need to eat every day to live a healthier, longer life? Forget the traditional answer of around five servings a day. More recent research findings tell us we need at least seven portions of fruits and veggies every day.
In the first study of its kind, researchers from University College London (UCL) looked at the eating habits of 65,226 people between 2001 and 2013 and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Here, we look at important findings from the UCL study.
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How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Should We Have? The More, the Better
When researchers looked at how many servings of fruits and vegetables study subjects ate, they found that eating seven or more portions (1 portion = 80 grams) of fruit and vegetables a day offers significant benefits.
- It reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42 percent compared to eating less than one portion.
- It reduces your risk of death from cancer by 25 percent.
- It reduces your risk of death from heart disease by 31 percent.
Are Vegetables Better Than Fruit?
Are you more drawn to a thick slice of watermelon than a skinny carrot stick? Well, this study result might have you reaching for the carrots. The UCL research showed that vegetables have significantly higher health benefits than fruit.
Each daily portion of vegetables reduces your overall risk of death by 16 percent. Each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a smaller—but still significant—4 percent reduction.
THE CANNED FRUIT QUESTION
The researchers found no evidence of significant benefit from fruit juice, and canned and frozen fruit appeared to increase risk of death by 17 percent per portion. The survey did not distinguish between canned and frozen fruit, so this finding is difficult to interpret. Canned fruit products are almost four times more popular than frozen fruit in Europe, so it is likely that canned fruit dominated this effect.
“Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels, and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup rather than fruit juice,” Dr. Oyinlola Oyebode, the study’s lead author, told UCL News. “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 or hectic lifestyles or who live in deprived areas.”
The researchers adjusted these figures for sex, age, cigarette smoking, body mass index, education, physical activity, and alcohol intake to make the results more meaningful.
Eat More Produce for a Longer Life
No prior studies have linked fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause, cancer, and heart disease deaths in a nationally representative population. Nor have any studies quantified health benefits per portion or identified the types of fruits and vegetables with the most benefit. So the results of the study astounded even the researchers themselves. “We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” said Dr. Oyebode.
To get more vegetables and fruits into your diet, you don’t have to sit down to a bowl of peas every hour. There are countless clever and delicious ways to boost vegetable consumption.
- Add spinach, kale, or any assorted vegetables to soups and chili.
- Puree carrots and put them in smoothies.
- Add finely diced or pureed spinach to burgers.
- Thinly slice beets, parsnips, and sweet potatoes, brush lightly with olive oil, and bake for a healthy alternative to chips.
- Use spaghetti squash instead of pasta.
- Puree cauliflower, roll it in parmesan, and bake it at 400 degrees until crispy. Result: tasty cauliflower “tater tots.”
- Check out such cookbooks as The Sneaky Chef, by Missy Chase Levine and Deceptively Delicious by Melissa Seinfeld.
Share Your Experience
How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat each day? If you have a favorite way to get more vegetables on the menu, please share them in the Comments section below.
For related material, please visit these posts:
- “Complete Nutrition: Vegetables Are Essential”
- “The Best Cholesterol-Lowering Food: Cruciferous Vegetables”
- “The Best Vegetables for Weight Loss, and the Best Fruits: How to Choose Fruits and Veggies Wisely”
- “How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables: Use Repetition, Rewards, and Role Modeling”
 J Epidemiol Community Health. 2014 Mar 31.
 UCL News. 2014 Apr 1.
Originally published in 2014, this post is regularly updated.