How many servings of fruit, vegetables daily? Here’s the magic number

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If eating fruits and vegetables feels like a daily chore, doctors have some good news for you: the magic number you should be aiming for is five servings. Ashley Fraser / The Ottawa Citizen

If eating fruits and vegetables feels like a daily chore, Harvard doctors have some good news for you: the magic number you should be aiming for is five servings, which is only half the amount Canadian health officials recommend.

After you’ve hit that “five a day” threshold, the Boston scientists say that loading up on more fruits and veggies doesn’t have any added effect.

“It is possible that the digestibility of fruits and vegetables and the availability of nutrients and other bioactive compounds of these foods may have reached a plateau at five servings for most people,” Dr. Frank Hu, a Harvard School of Public Health professor, told Health Day.

Keep in mind, Canada’s Food Guide suggests that adults should be eating eight to 10 servings each day.

READ MORE: The 41 most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables

Hu researches nutrition and lifestyle and their effect on type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In previous work, Hu pointed to a risk of early death if people ate red meat daily. He also linked coffee drinking to longer life expectancy.

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This time, he conducted a meta-analysis, which factors in the results of a handful of hand-picked studies, to consider how fruit and vegetable intake affected risk of dying from chronic disease.

The results of 16 studies and a total of 833,000 participants was included in the analysis.

About 56,400 people died during the course of the study. But every daily serving of fruit or vegetables lowered the risk of death by five per cent.

Risk of heart-health-related death was reduced by four per cent.

If study participants ate more than five servings of the fare, the benefit didn’t increase, though.

READ MORE: Some of the worst foods for your heart’s health

While the study looked at fruit and vegetable intake and its effect on death, it can’t concretely say that it’s the fruit and vegetables causing the decreased risk.

And the takeaway message isn’t to stop at five servings either. The research didn’t see any negative health effects in participants who ate more than five servings a day.

It could be a nudge of encouragement — you may not hit the eight serving mark but five is much more attainable.

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Canada’s Food Guide advises consumers to reach for one dark green and one orange vegetable each day. It also suggests that you can reach for fresh, frozen of canned vegetables — they’re all nutritious options.

READ MORE: What’s the best way to cook vegetables? Steaming, study says

Last month, American researchers documented the most nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits. Watercress, Chinese cabbage, and chard topped the list.

Hu’s findings were published Tuesday night in the BMJ.