‘5-a-day’ might not be enough to ward off disease, scientists say


Not that most people are eating even five servings of fruit and vegetables every day — but 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 at least seven a day?

And if the fruit came from a can or the freezer, it might be doing more harm than good, the researchers reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

“We found a strong inverse relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause mortality,” they wrote. And eating at least seven servings of produce may be the most helpful, said the researchers, led by Oyinlola Oyebode of University College London.


“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 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.

They noted that they found an association — not a cause and effect relationship. What’s missing to make that conclusion are such aspects as total calorie and salt consumption.

The World Health Organization, in 1990, and later several national governments including the United Kingdom recommended people eat five servings of fruits and vegetables — “5 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 cancer and 31% lower from heart disease or stroke, after excluding deaths within the first year of the monitoring period.

As for the canned and frozen fruit, the researchers said many canned fruits have high sugar levels; frozen fruit is generally considered nutritionally the same as fresh. In an accompanying commentary, Chris Kypridemos, Martin O’Flahery and Simon Capewell of the University of Liverpool asked whether refined sugars are the “concealed villain.”


“The burning question is thus whether the refined sugars added to ‘processed’ fruit products might reduce, negate or even reverse the fruit potential benefits,” they wrote.


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