Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality
What’s the latest news on how many plant-based foods we need to eat daily to love longer? According to this study, the number is 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Current dietary recommendations encourage higher fruit and vegetable intake (excluding fruit juices and potatoes). According to the two cohort studies presented here, the positive effects (lower mortality rate) plateau at around five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Eating more didn’t add significantly to the reduction in mortality rates.
The study focused on the long-term effects of consuming different amounts of fruits and vegetables.
5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Research:
Background: Global fruit and vegetable consumption is lower than the guidelines recommend. In the US, adults average 1 serving of fruits and 1.5 servings of vegetables per day.
However, guidelines alone can be confusing. Different countries and organizations have different thresholds for how many daily fruit and veggie servings produce the maximum health benefits.
Additionally, several studies reported varying results concerning the health benefits of a specific number of daily servings.
That makes perfect sense, simply because every fruit or vegetable contains a unique combination of fiber, minerals, vitamins, protein, and phytochemicals!
- The 1976 study tracked 121,700 registered female nurses between the age of 30 and 55. The 1986 follow-up included 51,529 male health professionals between the age of 40 and 75.
- The 1986 study included a comprehensive dietary questionnaire about lifestyle risk factors, exposures, and diseases.
- The researchers excluded participants with a history of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, missing information on fruit and vegetable intake, or unlikely total calories consumed.
- The final data underlying the following assessments came from 66,719 women and 42,016 men.
- Assessment of their dietary information included average daily intake, average daily nutrient and calorie intakes, and overall diet quality.
- Assessment of the cause of deaths.
- Analyses of subgroups of fruits and vegetables (green leafy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, starchy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruit, and vitamin C–rich and β-carotene-rich fruit and vegetables), fruit juice, and potato intake.
- Identifying subgroups of participants according to their fruit and vegetable intake and smoking status, age, body mass index (BMI), histories of hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension.
- Follow-ups of 28 and 30 years, respectively, ending in 2014.
What science says:
- The studies found that around 5 servings of plant-based foods (about 2 of fruit and 3 of vegetables) a day led to the lowest total and cause-specific mortality rates.
- Eating more fruits or veggies didn’t significantly increase the mortality rate reduction.
- The mortality rates between different subgroups of participants and fruit and vegetable intakes were consistent.
- Eating more non-starchy vegetables, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, vitamin C–rich and β-carotene-rich fruit and vegetables lowered the mortality rate.
- Eating starchy vegetables didn’t affect the mortality rate.
- Fruit-juice and potato consumption didn’t affect total or cause-specific mortality.
What the data suggests:
- The studies suggest increasing our daily consumption to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables significantly lowers total and case-specific (disease) mortality rates.
- Eating up to 5 more portions ( for a total of 10) decreased the mortality rate just slightly more. Sixteen previous meta-analyses reached the same conclusion.
- Our bodies have limits as to how many biologically active plant-based compounds they can absorb, transport and store at one time.
- The enzymes involved in processing the compounds are likely to reach a saturation point. Anything we eat beyond that may not provide much benefit.
- The potassium in fruits and vegetables is one reason eating more of them lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease. Many processed foods contain lots of sodium, a major cause of high blood pressure and CVD. Improving your potassium/sodium ratio lowers blood pressure.
- The relationship between cancer mortality and fruit and vegetable intake requires further study.
- Increased fruit and vegetable intake lessened the risk of respiratory diseases. Bioactive plant-based compounds’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may explain why.
- Additionally, these bioactive compounds and nutrients such as magnesium, fiber, and polyphenols can further alleviate and delay disease progression.
- Finally, fruit juices and starchy vegetables seem to have no beneficial effect on mortality rates.
The conclusion: The studies show that increased fruit and vegetable intake positively affects our physical health and lowers the risk of major diseases and their mortality rates.
Unfortunately, on average, people eat fewer fruits and vegetables than suggested. Overall, the studies found that about 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (2 fruits and 3 vegetables) can significantly benefit us. These results are consistent with previous findings.
Wang, D. D., Li, Y., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Rosner, B. A., Sun, Q., Giovannucci, E. L., Rimm, E. B., Manson, J. E., Willett, W. C., Stampfer, M. J., & Hu, F. B. (2021). Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies of US Men and Women and a Meta-Analysis of 26 Cohort Studies. Circulation, CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996