Start stocking your kitchen with fresh produce because doubling down on your fruits and vegetables intake will help you ward off disease and live longer, a new study says.
And while the recommended five servings a day also reduces disease risk, the greatest benefit came from eating 800g daily.
“Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system,” says study co-author Dr. Dagfinn Aune in a statement. “This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold. For instance, they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage and lead to a reduction in cancer risk.”
The study, a meta-analysis of all available research around the world that included up to 2 million people, assessed around 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.
Researchers also took several factors into account, such as a person’s weight, smoking habits, physical activity and overall diet.
Through their work, researchers estimated that approximately 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide may be prevented every year if people eat 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day.
Eating up to 800g of produce a day also decreased the risk of heart disease by 24 per cent; stroke by 33 per cent; cardiovascular disease by 28 per cent; cancer by 13 per cent; and premature death by 31 per cent. This was in comparison to not eating any fruits or vegetables.
Researchers were also able to determine which fruits and vegetables offered the most benefits.
They concluded that apples, pears, citrus fruits, salads and green leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce and chicory, as well as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, may help prevent disease and early death.
Produce that may help reduce cancer risk include green vegetables like spinach or green beans, yellow vegetables like peppers and carrots, and cruciferous vegetables.
While 10 servings may seem like a lot in one day, it’s actually quite doable, says registered dietitian Adrianna Smallwood.
According to Smallwood, a medium-sized apple is considered two servings of your daily intake, and so is one cup of vegetables.
When put into perspective, Smallwood says the task seems a lot less daunting.
But Smallwood warns that people shouldn’t dive right into consuming 10 servings a day – instead, take things slow.
“Work up to that number,” she says. “When you incorporate that many fruits and vegetables in your diet, it’s also a fiber overload. So we usually recommend people increase their water intake as they’re increasing their fruit and veggie intake because with all that extra fiber, it can lead to constipation. It’s about setting small goals and then working up to the end goal.”
If you’re having a hard time finding ways to incorporate more produce into your diet, it’s important to remember that fruits and vegetables have benefits even beyond simply eating them fresh.
Try including fruits or even veggies into your baked goods. Zucchini, carrots and blueberries are just some examples of produce that can be mixed into tasty muffins, for example.
Don’t be afraid to add frozen or canned fruits and vegetables into your meals. Picking up fresh produce can be expensive, especially since their shelf life is short, Smallwood notes, plus frozen and canned foods can often offer the same nutritional benefits.
According to Smallwood, frozen fruits and veggies may even have increased benefits thanks to the flash-freezing process. Many items, she says, are often frozen soon after picking when it they are at their peak nutritional value. She says the flash-freezing locks in those nutrients so consumers get the best the fruit and vegetable has to offer.
Smallwood adds that canned vegetables and fruits are still a healthy option. While some canned food may include overly salty or sugared liquid, many brands offer healthier options by canning fruits and vegetables in pure water instead.
Looking to amp up your intake in an easy way? One trick, Smallwood says, is to try and have a fruit with every meal.
Canada’s report card
Canada’s food guide currently recommends the following daily servings by age group:
- Ages two to three: four servings
- Ages four to eight: five servings
- Ages nine to 13: six servings
- Ages 14 to 18: seven to eight servings
- Ages 19 to 50: seven to 10 servings
- Over age 51: seven servings
But following those guidelines often proves to be tough for many Canadians.
According to Statistics Canada, 39.5 per cent of people over the age of 12 (about 11.2 million people) reported eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day in 2014 – that’s down from about 46 per cent in 2009.
Breaking it down, Statistics Canada found that women were more likely than men to consume their daily recommended servings. Between 2001 and 2014, about 47 per cent of females said they hit their target, compared to about 32 per cent of men.
Geographically speaking, Quebec had the most residents who reported consuming more than five servings a day, with 46 per cent. Residents of Nunavut (24 per cent) and Newfoundland and Labrador (26 per cent) had the least.