If you’ve followed this blog or my social media for a while, you know I’m always banging on about the benefits of fruit and veg consumption, and that we need to make an effort to make sure we are getting our recommended intake every day.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that Australians consume 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables every day.
The health benefits of fruit and veg are well established in the peer reviewed literature.
They are an amazing source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients that can calm inflammation and counteract free radical and DNA damage. Peer reviewed studies abound which show that increasing your fruit and veg intake can reduce your risk of obesity, many cancers, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, stroke, heart attack and even depression and dementia! They are also known to boost our endothelial function (the health of our blood vessels) and even our immune system.
So making sure you're you get your five and two a day should be a no-brainer!
But sadly, the most recent Australian Heath Survey revealed that less than 4% of Australians are consuming the recommended amounts of vegetables. This is a huge missed opportunity for our health and longevity.
And here's where it gets even more interesting…
Back in February a big stir was created when scientists from the Imperial College in London published a paper stating that if people want to use food as preventative medicine and get the biggest bang for their nutrition buck, they should consume 800g of fruit and veg a day.
That’s approximately TEN serves a day.
I’m going to break that study down for you a little bit, and give you my personal perspective...
The study was a Meta-Analysis. That is where researchers analyse many previous studies, pooling the data and looking for associations. In this case the type of studies they were analysing were prospective cohort studies. These are studies where large groups of people are followed over many years to ascertain whether and how their diet and lifestyle choices have impacted certain health outcomes like heart disease or cancer. In this case the researchers analysed 95 studies, covering 2 million people. That's a pretty big data set!
Researchers wanted to find out the ideal amount of fruit and veg to eat each day to give us the best protection against cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death, so they undertook what is known as a dose-response study evaluating the relationship between fruit and veg intake and cardiovasculardisease, cancer and mortality.
And they found that as fruit and veg intake goes up, your health risks go down!
The researchers found that the greatest risk reduction for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality came from eating 800 grams of fruit and veggies a day. And for cancer, the greatest risk reduction came for a daily intake of 600g and above.
Consuming 800g of veggies a day a day lowered risk of:
heart disease by 24%
stroke by 33%
cardiovascular disease by 28%
cancer by 13%; and
premature death by 31%
Personally I like those odds!!!!!!! And all I have to do is enjoy and abundance of delicious fruit and veg??? Sign me up thanks!!
The researchers also looked at which types of fruit and veg may be most effective to lower disease risk.
Salad veggies and leafy greens (think lettuce, spinach and chicory), cruciferous veggies (like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage), apples, pears and citrus fruits topped the list for risk reduction for stroke, cardiovascular disease and premature death, whilst green veggies, yellow veggies and cruciferous veggies were the heroes when it comes to reducing cancer risk. But the researchers did flag that further research is needed into what specific fruit and veg are most effective for particular diseases.
The reactions in the media an across social media to the study ranged from incredulous to hostile. My personal favourite news headline was from the Telegraph newspaper in the UK: “Life under the new 10-a-day rules would be a dismal odyssey of joyless grating and chewing”.
I strongly disagree with that headline. I’ve made it my personal mission to get my clients and everyone who reads my blog to eat and enjoy a rainbow of veggies every day. I know this is possible because I do it myself. And it's not only possible, I show people how eating an abundance of healthy, colourful vegetables can be simple and delicious!
But I get it - any dietary (or lifestyle) change involves a period of adjustment and isn’t always a walk in the park.
But you want to know what else isn't a walk in the park? Bloody heart disease! Or cancer. Take a peek into the stroke rehab ward of your local public hospital and see if you are still bleating about a little extra veg a day. #micdrop #toughlove
So here are my takeaways:
Any fruit and veg intake is better than none. Every bit you eat is doing you good! Eating 200g of fruit and veg a day lowers heart disease risk by 16%, stroke risk by 18%, cardiovascular disease risk by 13%, cancer risk by 4% and risk of premature death by 15%. And that’s not a lot of food folks; its about the size of a standard tub of yoghurt. Absolutely doable, right?!?!?
Eat a rainbow! Personally, I strongly advocate consuming a variety of fruit and veg each day, in all the colours of the rainbow. Different fruit and veg contain different vitamins, minerals, types of fibre and phytonutrients. So make sure you each a variety each week. That way you know you are getting a range of different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
Eat fruit every day, but make sure you tip the balance in favour of veg. I think there is a special place in hell for anyone who tells people to avoid fruit. I'll be writing soon about the health benefits of fruit, and how to make the best choices, but for now I want you to know that I think everyone should eat at least 2 pieces a day. And for my active clients I actually recommend up to 4 pieces, ideally to be eaten along with sources of healthy fats and protein so the sugars in the fruit are absorbed slowly. But having said that, I don't think anyone should gorge themselves on huge amounts of fruit. Our bodies need a certain amount of fructose, and eliminating it completely is not good for our health. But taking in huge amounts, especially if it is in the form of fruit juices or fruit-heavy smoothies is not the best choice. So eat fruit every day. Go for a rainbow of colours. And don't gorge yourself on it, m'kay?
The more veg you eat, the better! The latest research has confirmed it. Find ways to boost the veg content of your meals and snacks. The more you eat, the better your odds! The latest study recommended 800 grams per day, but that was as high as the researchers were able to measure. They couldn't test higher levels, so who knows what the upper limit of benefit is???
I will be posting soon with my top tips for adding more healthy veggies into your diet!
In the meantime, if you would like some personalised tips, encouragement and support to add more healthy veg into your diet, hit me up for some coaching! Helping busy people lead healthy, happy, wonderful lives is my absolute favourite thing!
REFERENCES FOR MY FELLOW SCIENCE NERDS:
Dagfinn Aune, Edward Giovannucci, Paolo Boffetta, Lars T. Fadnes, NaNa Keum, Teresa Norat, Darren C. Greenwood, Elio Riboli, Lars J. Vatten, Serena Tonstad; 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. Int J Epidemiol 2017 dyw319. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw319
Slavin J, Beate L, Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables, Adv Nutr July 2012 Adv Nutr vol. 3: 506-516, 2012