Disease, death risk reduced with fewer fruits, vegetables than previously believed, study finds

HAMILTON, Ontario — Three apples a day may be best when it comes to keeping the doctor away, a new study finds.

Researchers, led by Dr. Andrew Mente at McMaster University in Canada, conducted a study spanning 18 countries and five continents that looked at the health benefits of moderate fruit, vegetable, or legume consumption.

Produce section of grocery store
While past research has shown eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is best, a new study finds just three servings still lowers one’s risk of early death.

While previous research indicated that eating as many as eight servings of produce a day lowered the risk of early death, this latest study considered the fact that such a large amount of fruit and vegetables was unaffordable for many in poorer countries.

“Our findings indicate that optimal health benefits can be achieved with a more modest level of consumption, an approach that is likely to be much more affordable,” says Mente in a press release.

The diets of more than 135,000 people between the ages of 35 and 70 across the globe were recorded for the research. The study’s participants, who completed country-specific food questionnaires, were examined years later for their risk of death or developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Those who ate three or more servings of fruit a day showed an 18 percent lesser risk of developing CVD and a 19 percent lesser chance of any type of mortality, compared to those who didn’t meet this threshold, the researchers found.

Consumption over this threshold showed greatly-diminishing returns in terms of decreasing mortality risk.

Purists would be glad to know that consuming produce raw confers even greater benefits. However, “since dietary guidelines do not differentiate between the benefits of raw versus cooked vegetables, our results indicate that recommendations should emphasize raw vegetable intake over cooked,” Mente emphasizes.

This research, which Mente calls the first of its kind, was intended to explore whether it was necessary to meet recommended daily intake guidelines of produce prescribed by governmental bodies in North America and Europe.

Since many poorer people cannot meet the prescribed standard— 400 to 800 grams of fruits or vegetables a day — a lesser standard of three to four servings, or approximately 375 to 500 grams a day, could meet the needs of these less-advantaged individuals worldwide.

The research complements a study published earlier this year that found eating three servings of fruits and vegetables could help lower stress levels.

The study’s findings were published in the journal The Lancet.