Double your fruit and vegetable intake for much-improved health

platter of vegetables
CC BY 2.0 cristina.sanvito -- Eat up! They'll only make you stronger and healthier, and you'll live longer, too.

New research from the UK shows that doubling the daily recommended amount of produce from 5 to 10 servings a day has significant health benefits.

If you thought eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day was challenging, it’s going to seem easy in comparison to the latest findings from the world’s nutritional experts. Researchers are now saying that doubling the current recommended amount – upping your daily intake to ten servings – could significantly reduce risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and prevent 7.8 million premature deaths annually.

Scientists at Imperial College London analyzed nutritional data from 95 different studies involving two million participants. They assessed 43,000 cases of heart disease, 47,000 cases of stroke, 81,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, 112,000 cancer cases and 94,000 deaths, publishing the results in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Not surprisingly, they found that the more vegetables and fruits a person eats, the healthier he or she is. The Guardian reports:

“Eating up to 800g [approximately 1.5 lbs] of fruit and vegetables – equivalent to 10 portions and double the recommended amount in the UK – was associated with a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature deaths.”

One portion is roughly equivalent to a banana, a pear, an apple, a large Mandarin orange, or 3 heaping tablespoons of cooked vegetables, such as spinach, peas, broccoli, or cauliflower. So you can imagine that multiplying those items by 10 each day would mean a whole lot more vegetable- and fruit-eating than is currently being done by most individuals. In fact, fewer than one in three UK residents is thought to reach the official target of five portions per day.

The researchers found no difference between raw and cooked produce, although certain vegetables and fruits appear to reduce risk of specific diseases:

To prevent heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and early death, eat apples and pears, citrus fruits, salads and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chicory, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

To combat cancer risk, eat green vegetables, such as spinach or green beans, yellow vegetables, such as peppers and carrots, and cruciferous vegetables. The latter contain glucosinolates, which activate enzymes that could prevent cancer.

Lead author Dr. Dagfinn Aune advises eating whole vegetables and fruits, which are also beneficial for gut health:

“Most likely it is the whole package of beneficial nutrients you obtain by eating fruits and vegetables that is crucial is health. This is why it is important to eat whole plant foods to get the benefit, instead of taking antioxidant or vitamin supplements (which have not been shown to reduce disease risk).”

Upping one’s intake of fruits and vegetables for health reasons has the added bonus of reducing one’s environmental impact, for when meals are rounded out with vegetables, it often translates to less meat and dairy on the plate. Focusing on vegetable-centric eating is something that many people are trying to do as a climate change mitigation strategy, so it’s a win-win situation for all.

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