The notion that if something is good for you, then more is better is often dismissed as flawed logic. This is true when scientific evidence fails to support consumption of mass quantities of certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in supplement form. However, new research suggests that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, believing more is better is eminently logical.
Double the dose
U.S. dietary guidelines have recommended including at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day in your diet. A new study conducted by a team of scientists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Imperial College London suggests that you double the dose to ensure a long and healthy life—and a healthy weight.
Their research, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, represents the largest analysis undertaken on the relationship between eating fruits and vegetables and the risk of chronic diseases. They reviewed data from 95 different studies including several hundred thousand participants.
Among the findings, each 200-gram (about 7 ounces) increase of daily fruit and vegetable consumption tended to lower risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death by 10.8 percent. The risk reduction persisted incrementally up to 800 grams (about 28 ounces) a day. At 28 ounces a day, you could expect to reduce your risk of heart disease by 24 percent, reduce your risk of stroke by 33 percent and reduce your risk of cancer by 13 percent.
Overall, you might reduce your risk of dying before your time from these diseases by 31 percent. Using those numbers, the researchers predicted what would happen if everyone in the world ate 28 ounces of fruits and vegetables a day. The results, however unlikely, would be a reduction in 7.8 million deaths. Those preventable deaths include two to four million from cardiovascular disease and 660,000 from cancer.
Most potent choices
The study also provided clarity on the specific types of fruits and vegetables associated with the greatest reduction in health risk. Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C such as apples, pears, citrus and leafy green vegetables were shown to be the most protective against cardiovascular disease and premature death.
In addition to vitamin C, these and other fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and potassium that contribute to good health in numerous ways.
Potassium is essential for controlling blood pressure and regulating a healthy heart. Increasing fiber intake has been shown to benefit blood vessel health by helping reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure and inflammation. Fiber also helps protect against diabetes and obesity by slowing digestion to improve blood sugar levels and help you feel fuller longer after a meal.
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that help protect your body’s cells from free radicals, byproducts of metabolism that damage DNA, accelerate aging and trigger cancer.
How much is a serving?
How hard can it be to include up to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables into your diet? It helps to understand what an actual serving is. According to the Department of Agriculture, a serving is 1 cup of raw or cooked fruit or vegetables, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens.
In real life, a fruit serving can be a medium size apple or banana, half an avocado, two or three plums, apricots or kiwis, seven strawberries or 14 cherries. A vegetable serving can be ten baby carrots, five broccoli florets, an ear of corn, 7 cherry tomatoes or half a sweet potato.
Learning the truth about serving sizes shows us that our perception of a serving is often much larger than what experts consider healthy. The same is true with fruits and vegetables. A serving is actually much smaller than we may have thought, and that’s a good thing.