‘5 a day’ still might not be enough fruit and vegetables, study finds

A diet that includes seven servings of fruits and vegetables was found to greatly reduce the mortality rate in a London study's multi-year time frame.
A diet that includes seven servings of fruits and vegetables was found to greatly reduce the mortality rate in a London study’s multi-year time frame.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Not that most people are eating even five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, but it turns out that might not be enough to get the best protection from disease and early death, said researchers who also found that vegetables do more good than fruit.

Might the new call be for at least seven a day?

“We found a strong inverse relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause mortality,” the researchers reported recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

“We have shown that those eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily have the lowest risk of mortality from any cause,” the researchers, led by Oyinlola Oyebode of University College London, wrote. But, they said, even people who know they should eat more produce cited problems doing so: difficulty in changing habits, lack of motivation, lack of time and cost.


“While seven servings of vegetables sounds like a lot, servings are rather small. A mere half cup of cooked leafy greens counts as a serving, as do roughly a dozen baby carrots or six asparagus spears,” said Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian. Still, in 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only about a quarter of American adults ate vegetables three or more times a day, he said.

L.A. caterer Jennie Cook said it’s really not that hard, with just a little planning.

“The first thing you have to do is make it a priority,” she said. Stock your kitchen with produce, “so that the first thing you can do in the morning is say, ‘I’m going to make my berry smoothie and then salad for lunch. And for dinner, I have some acorn squash and some spinach.”

Cook, of course, cooks. A problem for many Americans, she acknowledges, is that too many people don’t know how or don’t take the time to cook.

She said she feels “so much better” when her diet is loaded with vegetables. Ideally, she has three servings of produce at lunch, perhaps in a big salad, and three at dinner, with one or two servings at breakfast.

Bellatti also said that, while eating produce is important, “I think the top dietary priority for Americans should be to reduce the high quantities of highly processed foods that have become daily staples.”

The researchers noted that they found an association between mortality and produce consumption — not a cause-and-effect relationship. What’s missing to make that conclusion, they said, are such aspects as calorie and salt consumption tallies.


The World Health Organization in 1990, and later several national governments, recommended people eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables — “five a day” — to protect against cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

In the current research, scientists used the 2001-08 Health Surveys for England for more than 65,000 people 35 and older, which, unlike some other population samples, included a random national sample. They reported eating an average of 3.8 servings of produce — 1.5 of them vegetables. The study didn’t know how many of those were French fries, which tops many lists of vegetable consumption.

Eating at least seven servings was linked to a 42% lower risk of death from all causes, 25% lower from cancer and 31% lower from heart disease or stroke, after excluding deaths within the first year of the monitoring period.