04/05/2014 11:21 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Oldest Nutrition Advice May Be the Wisest


The Oldest Nutrition Advice May be the Wisest: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

As a dietitian, I come across nutrition "news" and diet advice daily that makes me what to cringe. Research findings are often misinterpreted, articles are written based on flimsy research (e.g., not published in a peer-reviewed journal), or the results are too preliminary to discuss.

There's more nutrition information available to all of us than ever before, but consumers seem more confused about what to eat. I see clients daily who can't eat enough butter or bacon (sat fat isn't bad for us after all, they believe) while they ban bananas (too "glycemic," they say). The foundation of a healthy diet -- eating several servings of produce daily -- isn't breaking through the clutter. Despite all the nutrition information Americans digest, a study by Produce for Better Health Foundation found that just 1 percent of all adults are getting the recommended servings of both fruits and vegetables.

A new study, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, should give you more reason to pile your plate with fresh produce picks. The study used data from more than 65,000 free-living English adults (at least 35 years old) and monitored their dietary habits and health status for an average of 7.7 years. During the course of the study, some 4,399 subjects died. Using the available dietary intake and mortality data, the researchers found an association between fruit and vegetable consumption and reduced risk for death from all causes, as well as risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer.

Results? Subjects who reported eating seven or more servings of produce daily were 42 percent less likely to die from any cause during the study. In addition, those eating seven or more servings per day reduced risk of dying from cancer by 25 percent and from heart disease by 31 percent, compared to those who reported eating less than a serving per day. Vegetables were found to provide more disease-preventing benefits than fruit. For example, those eating 3+ servings of fruit reduced risk of death by 16 percent but eating 3+ servings of vegetables reduced risk of death by 32 percent.

The researchers accounted for confounding variables like age, sex, education, BMI, alcohol intake, physical activity and tobacco use, making the results of this study even more compelling.

The researchers also found that every additional serving of fruit or vegetable reduced risk for overall death. They did report, however, that canned and frozen fruit consumption was correlated with a slight increased risk of death. The researchers noted that this finding is not consistent with previous studies, and added sugar in many canned fruits may be the culprit. Due to the way in which the data was collected, they could not analyze frozen fruit separate from canned. However, unsweetened frozen fruits should provide similar health benefits as fresh fruit.

Bottom line: Eat more fruits and veggies. While it's unclear how many servings per day is optimal for overall health, this study shows that three or more servings of vegetables and three or more servings of fruit provided significant health payoffs. Produce may be the only food group that we can safely say, "More is better!"