How Many Veggies a Day to Keep the Grim Reaper Away?

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.

Grim-Reaper-With-VeggiesIf 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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How Many Veggies a Day to Keep the Grim Reaper Away?

What’s the Definition of Healthy?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is caught in a debate over what most consider an outdated definition of the term “healthy.” The current requirements for a food product to legally use the term on packaging was crafted in the 1990’s when healthcare practitioners were focused on the amount of fat in foods as the biggest threat to health. As a result, natural and fresh foods like salmon and avocados could not put “healthy” on their labels while some sugary cereals and puddings which contained no fat could. No one made the effort or took the time to change this odd set of circumstances until the makers of a new snack bar called Kind wanted to use the term on its products made of all natural foods.

Kind Foods couldn’t use the word “healthy” on its snack bars because of high fat content. Also avocados and salmon couldn’t be labeled with the term. But some processed foods such as puddings and cereals could. The FDA is rethinking its requirements for calling a food healthy.

Many of the Kind bars contain a lot of nuts which are high in fat and that put them above the allowed amount of fat in the FDA’s definition of a healthy food. But with the latest nutrition research showing that it wasn’t necessarily the amount of fat in our diets but the kind of fats, the makers of Kind thought the definition needed updating. But rather than fight the FDA on their own, they turned to the public through a petition that got the attention of the officials at the FDA.

In response, the FDA allowed Kind to begin using the phrase “tasty and healthy” again on its packaging, but only as a company slogan and not as a direct reference to the product inside. But the FDA also decided it was time to consider updating its definition of healthy and for the past six months has been soliciting comments and opinions from nutritional experts, organizations and consumers as to what the new definition should contain. The allotted time for comments ended this week and now the FDA must get down to sorting through them to make their decision.

Not surprisingly, these interested parties could not all agree on a new standard. And even within some of the organizations they couldn’t come to a mutual understanding for a definition. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said that in the comments they gave the FDA this week that could not recommend an effective legal definition for the term “healthy.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest told the FDA in their input that they are concerned defining and allowing “healthy” to be used on packaging and in marketing may encourage people to choose processed foods over fresh fruit and vegetables and other natural foods on the grocery shelf. They do not want to see marketers misleading consumers with terms that are too nebulous.

In the end consumers need to be educated about what are the best foods for good health. They need to be savvy to avoid the tricks of marketers and the claims on packaging. Fortunately there is more and more good information as nutrition experts and researchers continue to show that fresh, natural foods and less processed packaged foods in our diets are key to keeping us “healthy.” Stay tuned to Produce Buzz as we highlight these findings on a weekly basis.

What’s the Definition of Healthy?