Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

DALLAS, Texas — It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet. While eating more of these nutrient-rich foods is always a good idea, a new study finds eaters need the right balance to help them live longer. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital say the perfect combo of two fruit servings and three vegetable servings each day will add years to the human lifespan.

Study authors examined health records on two million adults from every continent before reaching their “5-a-day” mix recommendation. They add that a diet full of fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of the leading causes of death such as heart disease and cancer. Unfortunately, the study finds only one in 10 people are eating enough fruits or vegetables on a daily basis.

“While groups like the American Heart Association recommend four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers likely get inconsistent messages about what defines optimal daily intake of fruits and vegetables such as the recommended amount, and which foods to include and avoid,” says lead study author, epidemiologist, and nutritionist Dong D. Wang in a media release.

Five servings a day keeps the doctor away

Wang and the team looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Both reports followed over 100,000 people for up to 30 years, providing detailed information of their diets every two or four years.

Researchers also compared these results with 26 other studies on 1.9 million people across 29 nations. All these reports examined the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and death.

The results reveal five daily servings of fruits and vegetables seems to be the perfect number for a longer life. Researchers did not find any added benefit of eating more than five servings in one day. Those adults eating slightly more vegetables (three servings) than fruits (two servings) had the longest lifespans.

In comparison to people only eating two servings of fruits and vegetables each day, adults eating five servings lowered their overall risk of premature death by 13 percent. The chances of dying from heart disease fell by 12 percent and cancer risk dropped by 10 percent. Moreover, risk of death from respiratory diseases like COPD fell by 35 percent for those having the “5-a-day” mix.

Not all fruits and vegetables help your health

Unfortunately, study authors find living longer is a little more complicated than just loading up your plate with your favorite healthy foods. Not all fruits and vegetables provide the same amount of protection against disease. Researchers say starchy vegetables (like peas and corn), fruit juices, and potatoes did not help participants live longer during these studies.

Green leafy vegetables, on the other hand, pack a healthy punch in the daily diet. These foods include spinach, lettuce, and kale. Fruit and vegetables containing beta carotene and vitamin C, like citrus fruits, berries, and carrots, also contributed to a longer life.

“Our analysis in the two cohorts of U.S. men and women yielded results similar to those from 26 cohorts around the world, which supports the biological plausibility of our findings and suggests these findings can be applied to broader populations,” Wang reports. “This amount likely offers the most benefit in terms of prevention of major chronic disease and is a relatively achievable intake for the general public.”

“The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal,” adds Anne Thorndike, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee. “This research provides strong evidence for the lifelong benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and suggests a goal amount to consume daily for ideal health. Fruits and vegetables are naturally packaged sources of nutrients that can be included in most meals and snacks, and they are essential for keeping our hearts and bodies healthy.”

The study appears in the journal Circulation.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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