A study published by Circulation, the American Heart Association's flagship journal, concluded that a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of death in men and women. Although this information isn't necessarily new, the study also found what appears to be the key to longevity: five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, eaten as two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables.
"While groups like the American Heart Association recommend four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers likely get inconsistent messages about what defines optimal daily intake of fruits and vegetables such as the recommended amount, and which foods to include and avoid," said lead study author Dong D. Wang, MD, ScD, epidemiologist, nutritionist and member of the medical faculty at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Dr. Wang and his colleagues analyzed data from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which included more than 100,000 adults and followed up with them for to 30 years. Both datasets included detailed dietary information repeatedly collected every two to four years.
Analysis of the studies, with a composite of more than 2 million participants, additionally revealed that:
- Eating more than five servings was not associated with additional benefit.
- Compared to those who consumed two servings of fruit and vegetables per day, participants who consumed five servings a day had a 13% lower risk of death from all causes; a 12% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease; a 10% lower risk of death from cancer; and a 35% lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
- Starchy vegetables, such as peas and corn, fruit juices and potatoes were not associated with reduced risk of death from all causes or specific chronic diseases.
- Foods that yielded the most benefits included green leafy vegetables—spinach, lettuce and kale—as well as fruit and vegetables rich in beta carotene and vitamin C—citrus, berries and carrots.
"The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal," said Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "This research provides strong evidence for the lifelong benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, and suggests a goal amount to consume daily for ideal health."