Consistently eating fruits and vegetables has been found to benefit consumers’ physical and mental health. Now, researchers from the American Heart Association are investigating how these staples can affect life expectancy.
According to their findings, eating the right combination of fruits and vegetables can lead to a longer life. The team found that having three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day was associated with the best health outcomes.
“While groups like the American Heart Association recommend four to five servings 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 researcher Dr. Dong. D. Wang.
Health benefits of fruits and vegetables
The researchers compared information from several different datasets for the study. They looked at data from more than 100,000 participants enrolled in the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study, which tracked both diet and health outcomes for more than three decades. They also compared those results with data from 26 earlier studies to determine how fruits and vegetables contributed to overall health and longevity.
The team learned that eating five servings of fruits and vegetables was associated with the best health outcomes; however, different combinations of these healthier options yielded different results. For instance, breaking up the portions to include two servings of fruits and three of vegetables each day was linked with the best outcomes.
Consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables in any capacity lowered the participants’ risk of death and disease. The study found that hitting that benchmark each day lowered participants’ risk of death from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.
“This amount [of fruits and vegetables] likely offers the most benefits in terms of prevention of major chronic disease and is a relatively achievable intake for the general public,” said Dr. Wang. “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.”
Leafy greens and citrus fruits are the best
The researchers found that not all fruits and vegetables yielded the same health benefits. Starchy vegetables or sugary fruit juices didn’t produce any of the protective health benefits that came from leafy greens or citrus fruits.
Moving forward, the team hopes that consumers get creative at mealtimes and look for new ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets.
“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,” said researcher Dr. Anne Thorndike. “Fruits and vegetables are naturally packaged sources of nutrients that can be included in most meals and snacks, and they are essential for keeping our hearts and bodies healthy.”