According to a new study released by the American Heart Association (AHA) that analyzed data representing nearly 2 million adults worldwide, 5 is the number of servings of fruits and vegetables you need to eat each day to live the longest.
Two of those five servings should be fruit while the other three should focus on veggies, the study found.
“This amount likely offers the most benefit in terms of prevention of major chronic disease and is a relatively achievable intake for the general public,” said lead author Dr. Dong Wang, an epidemiologist and nutritionist at Harvard Medical School, in a statement.
Varying benefits from different fruits and vegetables
However, There were differences in benefits, depending on the fruit or veggie in question.
“We also found that not all fruits and vegetables offer the same degree of benefit, even though current dietary recommendations generally treat all types of fruits and vegetables, including starchy vegetables, fruit juices and potatoes, the same,” Mr. Wang said.
For instance, peas, corn, potatoes and other starchy vegetables were not associated with a reduced risk of death or specific chronic disease. Green leafy vegetables rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, such as spinach, leafy green lettuce and kale, along with carrots, did show benefits.
In the fruit category, fruits packed with beta carotene and vitamin C, such as berries of all kinds and citrus fruits, also helped reduce risk of death and chronic disease. However, fruit juice did not. Past research has found that it’s the fiber in whole fruit that is key to any benefits.
“The totality of the evidence in the study “should convince health professionals to promote eating more fruits and vegetables as a key dietary strategy, and for citizens to embrace this,” wrote experts. “The biggest gains may come from encouraging those who rarely eat fruit or vegetables, since diets rich in even modestly higher fruit and vegetable consumption are beneficial,” they added.
The AHA study was large and in two parts. The first was an analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which followed more than 100,000 American men and women for up to 30 years. All participants filled out a food habit questionnaire at the start of the studies. These questionnaires were updated every two to four years. That information was then compared to health and death records gathered during the long-term studies.
The second part of the study was an analysis of pooled data from 26 studies covering nearly 2 million participants from 29 countries and territories in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North and South America. Those studies also compared self-reported fruit and vegetable intake along with death rates.
People who ate five servings a day of fruits and vegetables had a 13 percent lower risk of death from any health-related causes than people who only ate two servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Eating five servings was also linked to a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke. They also had a 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer and a 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than those who ate only two servings, the study found.
Oddly, the study didn’t find any benefit in longevity by eating more than five servings a day of fruits and veggies, which is contrary to prior research in both animals and people.