A serving of fruit or veggies is roughly defined as one small fruit, 1 cup of raw fruit or veggies, or ½ cup of cooked fruits or veggies. In the recent study, researchers found getting 10 servings of produce daily was associated with a 24% reduction in heart disease, a 33% reduction in stroke, a 28% reduction in cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduction in cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature death risk. If you are a long way off from 10 daily servings of produce, do not despair. Even just 2.5 servings daily yields substantial health benefits. Researchers found eating 2.5 servings of produce daily was associated with a 16% reduction in heart disease, an 18% reduction in stroke, a 13% reduction in cardiovascular disease, a 4% reduction in cancer, and a 15% reduction in premature death.
Why are fruits and vegetables so beneficial to our health? They contain a complex array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that have diverse benefits to our health and the health of our gut bacteria. They also can replace intake of foods known to be harmful to our health.
Another recent research paper found that intake of antioxidant-rich produce is especially helpful to current and former smokers. Smoking exposes the lungs and body to increased oxidation and DNA damage. The 13-year study involved 44,000 Swedish men between the ages of 45 and 79. Nearly two-thirds had smoked at some point. Roughly one-quarter still smoked. The men filled out food questionnaires and answered questions about smoking and other behaviors. Analyzing the data, the study team determined that regardless of smoking history those who ate five or more servings of certain fruits and vegetables a day were 35% less likely to develop serious airway diseases (known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which includes emphysema) than those who consumed just two servings daily. Among former smokers, each additional produce serving produced a 4% lower risk of COPD. In current smokers, each extra serving was linked to an 8% lower risk. Researchers theorized that antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may play a role in reducing tissue stress and inflammation that is central to the onset of COPD. Intake of apples, pears, green leafy vegetables and peppers appeared to be most protective against COPD.
What to do: For overall health and longevity, incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your regular meals and snacks. Aim for 10 servings a day. This is not as hard as you might think. Remember a “serving” is approximately 1 cup of raw or ½ cup of cooked produce, so, for example, your portion of salad might be 3 servings of veggies. Start by trying to include a fruit and/or veggie in each meal or snack. Frozen options are nutritious and easy to keep on hand and quickly add to your menu selections. As for preventing COPD, your best bet is not to smoke or quit if you do, but, if you won’t quit, making your diet rich in produce can likely help to blunt some of the increased risk to your health.
Adapted from articles available at:
Kaluza J, Larsson SC, Orsini N, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of COPD: a prospective cohort study of men. Thorax 2017. Published online ahead of print February 22, 2017. DOI: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2015-207851
Dagfinn A, Giovannucci D, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality–a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology 2017. DOI: 10.1093/ije/dyw319