According to a dramatic new study from University College London, consuming seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces risk of death at any point in time by 42%, compared to eating less than one portion.
Study researchers studied the eating habits of over 65,000 people representative of the English population. They found that the more fruit and vegetables these people ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Also, vegetables had significantly greater health benefits than fruit.
Amazingly, eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables reduced the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively.
This is the first study to link fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause mortality as well as cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally representative population. It is also the first to quantify health benefits per portion and identify the types of fruits and vegetables offering the most benefits.
Compared to eating less than one portion of fruit and vegetables, the risk of death by any cause is reduced by 14% by eating one to three portions, 29% for three to five portions, 36% for five to seven portions and 42% for seven or more. The researchers adjusted these figures for sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index (BMI), education, physical activity and alcohol intake - while deaths within a year of the food survey were excluded.
Overall, fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, and each portion of fresh fruit was associated with a lesser but still significant 4% reduction.
Study researchers found no evidence of significant benefit from fruit juice, while canned and frozen fruit appeared to actually increase risk of death by 17% per portion. This particular survey did not distinguish between canned and frozen fruit.
Canned fruit products are almost four times more popular than frozen fruit in Europe, so it is likely that canned fruit is responsible for this adverse effect. Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup, so the negative health impacts of sugar may be greater than any health benefits the canned fruit has to offer.
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