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01st August 2014

Five a Day is Still the Way

five a day is still the wayWe all know fruit and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fibre, and that we should be consuming more. Readers may remember a blog earlier this year discussing a study of the UK population that suggested we should be increasing our intake from five to seven a day to achieve the maximum health benefit, and the lowest risk of death. Many of us though struggle to eat even five a day. Those that despaired of being able to eat or cater for the suggested seven can, perhaps, relax, as a new and larger scientific review concludes that maybe five will do.

Five per cent reduction in mortality per additional portion

A systematic review just published by researchers in the US and China examined the effect of increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and risk of death. Results from 16 cohort studies were combined, involving 833,234 people (compared to 65,000 in the UK study). Higher consumption of fruit and vegetables was significantly associated with a lower risk of death from any cause. For each extra serving per day of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death was reduced by five per cent. There was a threshold of around 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, after which risk of death from any cause did not reduce further. In other words once a person consumed five portions, no benefit was noted from eating extra portions.

Greater fruit and vegetable consumption also decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease and stroke) by four per cent for each additional daily serving, though higher consumption was not appreciably associated with reduced risk of death from cancer. The authors suggest there may be other cancer risk factors - such as obesity, physical activity, high alcohol consumption and smoking - that may be more important. It may be that consuming more fruit and vegetables can lower the risk of specific types of cancer but this was not looked at in the review.

Aim for more

We must remember that cohort studies, the type of studies used in the review, may suffer from confounding (other factors in peoples lifestyles affecting the results), and the link between fruit and vegetables and risk of death could be related to people who eat more fruit and vegetables having a generally healthier lifestyle.

Whatever study you read though, there is consensus on the main issue; eating more fruit and vegetables than most of us do currently is a very good thing for health, and is likely to lower risk of dying prematurely.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all. Read more

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