Is it three, four, five or ten servings of fresh fruit and veggies a day to ensure a longer life? Researchers seem to conflict with their findings but when you actually add it up, it’s pretty much the same.
If you thought Dracula was haunting your village you’d make sure you had plenty of cloves of garlic on hand to ward him off at night. Well, you may think the famous vampire is but a myth and most certainly he is. But researchers are showing that another myth and symbol of death, the Grim Reaper, can be kept at bay with that same garlic—And you don’t have to wear it around your neck. Just use it to season your three to four servings of veggies a day. Yes, you heard us right. Just three to four servings.
For decades we have been told that five servings a day of fruits and vegetables is needed to make sure we are in optimal health and staving off all those terrible diseases that are plaguing our modern society, e.g., diabetes, heart attacks, cancer and strokes. Then earlier this year a report from the Imperial College of London said we needed to double that amount (ten servings) if we were really going to be sure of preventing an early death. That study indicated that these amounts of fresh produce would make you 33% less likely to die prematurely.
But less than seven months later, a new, and perhaps much more exhaustive study, has concluded that eating just three to four servings a day is sufficient for keeping the grim reaper at bay. The findings of this latest research was conducted at McMaster University in Canada and published last week in the Lancet, one of the oldest and respected medical journals
That will no doubt provide relief to many who think of eating their veggies as a an unpleasant chore forced upon them by over protective parents. And for families with lower incomes, it will take some pressure off of their budgets when they go shopping.
But what did the study actually say and what does it mean for your meal planning and health goals?
First of all it is important to identify how a “serving” was defined. For this most recent study, a serving was 125 grams of fruit or vegetables. So a daily intake of three servings would be 375g. The serving size used in the February study was only 80g which corresponds with the World Health Organization’s serving size in their recommended five a day. So prior to this year’s study the prevailing wisdom suggested getting 400g of veggies every day. Even the most math-challenged of us can see that the amount is pretty similar from both recommendations. And if you take the four servings a day from the latest research as the best, then you are well over the five a day amounts previously advised (500g vs. 400g).
The latest study was an isolated study and focused on 135,000 people across Europe, North America, Japan and China for a ten-year period (2003-2013). That’s pretty exhaustive but was it more exhaustive than the Imperial College survey? The British study was not original research but analyzed the results of 95 other previous studies on fresh produce intake. The numbers of people involved in those studies added up to over 2 million people. But did the research methods differ substantially to skew the results of their analysis?
These are all questions that are difficult to quantify. But the authors of the new study are quick to point out that they feel their research aligns with the Imperial College research. In the Canadian effort, they did not see a large additional advantage for consuming more than the three to four servings, but their was some so they are hopeful that their work will not discourage people from eating more fruits and veggies if they already are.
Victoria Miller, the lead author of the report said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in England, “In western countries like North America and Europe we don’t want to suggest that [people] should start eating less fruit and vegetables – we think that it is part of an overall healthy diet and there is benefit from eating more.”
The new study doesn’t really change the opinion of nutritionists. The lesson is we need to be getting as many fruits and veggies in our diet as possible and even if it’s only 3-4 servings per day the evidence shows that is of great benefit. And if we can get more than that it will have added benefits toward extending our lives. But the dieticians also warn that only getting 3-4 a day and filling up on other non healthy foods may cancel out your efforts. Nutrition packed veggies need to be replacing our intake of highly processed foods and those with high amounts of fats and sugar.
Keep fruits and veggies on your mind and close at hand throughout the day, especially when you feel the urge to snack. Before you open that bag of chips or a candy bar, eat a fresh apple or pear. If you’re still hungry after that then maybe you can indulge, but we think chances are you won’t. This way you will easily increase your servings per day and increase your chance of a long healthy life.
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