Choose the Right Fruits and Vegetables for Optimal Health
Among other dietary recommendations for good health, our primary care doctors in Delray Beach have often urged you to increase your intake of vegetables. “Strive for Five” is the catchphrase to remind you to consume at least five fruits and vegetables every day to maintain your health.
A new study from the American Heart Association (AHA) says simply choosing from the category “fruits and vegetables” won’t produce optimal results. It appears that there are “good”—or at least, “better”—selections than others. Not all fruits and vegetables are equal, according to the new study.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital tracked over two million adults worldwide for more than 30 years. They found those who ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily were 13% less likely to have died over the period than those who ate two or fewer.
Researchers also looked at individual disease categories. They found those who ate five servings of fruits and vegetables lowered their risks of dying from respiratory disease by 35%. The risk of dying from cardiovascular disease lowered by 12%, and cancer lowered by 10%.
The study, published this month in the AHA’s journal Circulation, didn’t find any benefit in eating more than five servings of these foods daily, however. This finding contradicts earlier published studies that show otherwise. Previous researchers speculated that this was because the new study relied solely on self-reported dietary intake. The previous studies, however, were controlled, clinical studies.
Nevertheless, the researchers found their results compelling.
“This research provides strong evidence for the lifelong benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and suggest a goal amount to consume daily for ideal health,” Anne Thorndike, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said in a statement.
“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,” she added.
The perfect combination of fruits and vegetables for your health
The study, however, discovered that the type produce consumed, along with the right mix, was important. The study authors said the optimal intake was three vegetables and two fruits a day.
“We . . . 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,” lead author Dr. Dong Wang, an epidemiologist and nutritionist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a statement.
The researchers didn’t see any benefits for those who ate such starchy vegetables as peas, corn, and potatoes. Fruit juices didn’t count, either, most likely because it’s the fiber in the whole fruit that makes the difference.
Instead, the study found that green leafy vegetables rich in beta-carotene offered the greatest degree of benefits.
The type of fruit matters, too. Fruits high in beta-carotene and vitamin C helped lower the risk of death and chronic disease better than other fruits.
Easy ways to measure
One serving generally equals one whole fruit or a cup of cut-up fruit. Vegetables are a little different: One cup equals one serving, except in the case of raw, leafy green vegetables. Those require two cups to make up a serving.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines, however, were developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It says the simplest way to gauge adequate intake is to fill half your plate with produce at every meal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers quick, convenient ways to incorporate more produce daily.
- saving time and money by chopping extra fruit or vegetables at one time and freezing the extra
- choosing frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, which often contain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts
- grabbing a small apple, banana, carrot sticks, or grape tomatoes as your afternoon snack
The CDC reports that only nine to 12% of U.S. adults eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. The new study may help change that.
“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 [strategy],” Dr. Naveed Sattar and Dr. Nita Forouhi write in an editorial on the study that releases in April.
Sattar is a professor at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow. Forouhi leads the nutritional epidemiology program of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. Neither participated in the study.
“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.