Few people achieve the government’s long-standing recommendation to eat six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But the good news is, a major, new study shows you may not need to aim quite so high…
In fact, the findings suggest that a far more reasonable target helps to significantly reduce your all-cause mortality (death) risk…as well as your risk of developing three common chronic diseases.
I’ll tell you all about that important, new research—and how many servings of fruits and veggies you really need eat each day—in just a moment.
But first, let’s back up…
Most Americans fall far short of six to eight servings a day
The U.S. government came out with the lofty recommendation to eat six to eight servings of fruits and veggies a few decades ago now. They even offered a job to a colleague of mine at Georgetown University to become “the fruit and vegetable lady,” going around promoting the idea.
Ironically, when that new recommendation came out, I remember you couldn’t find a single piece of fruit (let alone a vegetable) to purchase on the Amtrak train café between Boston and Washington, D.C.
I often saw then-Senator Joe Biden on the train during that time. He was very friendly and approachable, and once, I even pointed out the discrepancy to him.
The truth is, most Americans fell (and still fall) far short of eating six to eight fruits and vegetables a day…even if they didn’t have to dine on Amtrak, as I had to a couple times a week for 10 years between 1995 and 2005.
In fact, as I reported last year, in one interesting study, none of the participants ate as much as six to eight vegetables per day. But some of them ate that much per week, so the researchers put them in the top category of healthy consumers.
And guess what?
That top group still gained tremendous health benefits—from eating just six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables per week—compared to the lower consumption groups, which included many who ate none at all.
Which brings me to the new study I mentioned at the beginning of this Dispatch…
A new “magic” number
For the new study, researchers with Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston analyzed 30 years’ worth of data on almost two million people in the U.S. and other countries.
Compared to people who consumed only two servings of fruits and vegetables a day, those who consumed just five servings a day had the most protection against disease. But what makes this study particularly interesting is that those who ate more than five servings a day gained no further protection!
In other words, there’s no need to fret if you’re not getting the recommended eight servings a day. Especially since, in the early study I mentioned, nobody actually does! Based on the results of this study, five servings offers plenty of protective benefits.
Specifically, study subjects who ate five servings a day had a:
- 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease;
- 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer;
- and a whopping 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
Of course, each of those reductions are significant. But the 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), really impressed me. Especially since both mainstream medicine and “natural-know-it-alls” make it seem like quitting smoking (or never starting) is the one and only way to prevent lung diseases. When, as I’ve reported many times before (and as this study confirms), there’s much more to lung health than just not smoking!
Not to mention, people who ate five fruits and veggies each day also had a 13 percent lower all-cause mortality risk. (As I’ve explained before, mortality risk is the one statistic to which we should pay the most attention, because statisticians can’t manipulate it or fiddle with it. Either a person dies…or they don’t.)
But the good news from this study didn’t stop there.
The researchers even went one step further to determine the specific combination of fruits and vegetables that offers the most protection…
Adding up the benefits
It turns out, eating three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day offered the most benefits. And the most-protective vegetables were green leafy vegetables (like spinach and kale). Of course, the evidence linking leafy greens with increased longevity and lower disease risk dates back a century to the original British Empire Cancer Campaign of the 1920s.
On the other hand, the study did not find any benefit from consuming fruit juice or starchy vegetables. Which makes sense to me…
I always recommend you consume whole fruits and limit your intake of fruit juice. For one, the natural sugar (fructose) found in whole fruits does not cause the metabolic disruptions that table sugar (sucrose) does, as found in processed confections and some fruit drinks. Second, the manufacturing of fruit juice tends to break up the natural food matrix, which makes the fructose move more quickly into the bloodstream (like sucrose does).
When it comes to starchy vegetables, I always suggest you consume them in moderation. And certainly only opt for organic varieties—as most conventionally grown corn, potatoes, and other starchy veggies on the market today come from genetically modified crops. You should also remember that ultra-processed, plant-based foods—such as veggie burgers—do not count toward your daily total of vegetables. (In fact, I recommend avoiding them altogether for various reasons.)
Set reasonable and achievable targets
After nearly 40 years of misguidance from the U.S. government, we finally have a healthy, achievable target to aim for in terms of fruit and vegetable intake. Plus, since just one-half cup of most fruits or vegetables counts as one serving, it’s now even easier than you might think to achieve!
For example, one large apple may count as two servings! And enjoying a meal-sized serving of this French classic stew would count for three or four servings of vegetables all by itself!
In the end, research shows improving your diet is the No. 1 thing you can do to improve your health and longevity. So, this spring, as you go about restarting your healthy routines, make healthy eating a top priority. As always, I encourage you to enjoy fresh produce—along with grass-fed and -finished meat, wild-caught seafood, full-fat dairy, seeds, nuts, and beans (legumes)—every day.
P.S. Learn about additional common-sense strategies for staying vibrant, youthful, and healthy as you age in my Insider’s Guide to Outsmarting “Old Age.” Click here to learn more about this innovative, online learning tool, or to enroll today!
“Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies of US Men and Women and a Meta-Analysis of 26 Cohort Studies.” Circulation, March 2021. doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996Circulation.