Tag Archives: fruits

What counts as fruits and veggies for the “five a day”? This study clears things out

“What should we eat?” is a question you’ll hear a lot from your significant other. While they may not be sure, a new paper is: about 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables every day.

New research from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, reports that getting five servings of fruits and vegetables every day (particularly getting 2 of fruit and 3 of vegetables) is the optimal amount for all your health needs. This ratio was found to help reduce the risks of developing numerous chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

However, only 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. eat enough fruits and vegs, the study adds, citing statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pear-shaped snacks

“While groups like the American Heart Association recommend four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily, consumers likely get inconsistent messages about what defines optimal daily intake of fruits and vegetables such as the recommended amount, and which foods to include and avoid,” said lead study author Dong D. Wang, M.D., Sc.D., an epidemiologist, nutritionist and a member of the medical faculty at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The paper looked at two studies — the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study — which together followed nearly 100,000 adults worldwide for up to 30 years. Both studies included detailed dietary information on its participants, which were collected every two to four years. The team also included data on fruit and vegetable intake alongside mortality rates from a further 26 studies that included about 1.9 million participants in 29 countries and territories in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

All in all, the analysis revealed that:

  • About 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily was associated with the lowest risk of death among participants. Having more than five servings didn’t seem to confer any additional benefits.
  • Having 2 servings of fruit and 3 of veggies daily seemed to yield the best results; these participants had a 13% lower risk of death from all causes, a 12% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 10% lower risk of death from cancer, and a 35% lower risk of death from respiratory disease, compared to participants who ate 2 servings of fruit or vegetables per day.
  • Starchy foods (corn, potato, peas, fruit juices, so on) were not associated with this reduction in mortality. In other words, they don’t count towards your 5 daily servings.
  • Leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce, or kale, alongside fruits and vegetables rich in beta carotenes and vitamin C (brightly-colored items such as carrots, bell peppers, berries, or citrus fruits) do count towards these 5 servings.

“Our analysis in the two cohorts of U.S. men and women yielded results similar to those from 26 cohorts around the world, which supports the biological plausibility of our findings and suggests these findings can be applied to broader populations,” Wang said.

The team hopes that their work will help make it a bit clearer to everybody on exactly what constitutes good dietary habits, and which items count towards the succinct public message of 5-a-day. This amount, says Wang, likely “offers the most benefit in terms of prevention of major chronic disease” and is relatively achievable on a day-to-day basis.

One particularly important finding here is that not all fruits and vegetables offer the same benefits — some even offer none. Of particular note here are starchy vegetables, fruit juices, and potatoes, which offer no benefits despite the fact that current dietary guidelines treat these items the same as other fruits or vegetables. Fruit juices contain a lot of sugar, for instance, while potatoes aren’t as good for you as other vegetables.

Still, the study so far is only observational, which means that it found an association between certain dietary factors and a lower risk of death. But as you all surely know by now, correlation does not imply causations — just because these two elements are associated doesn’t mean that one causes the other. More work is needed to establish a solid cause-and-effect relationship, but in the meantime, it can’t hurt to chow down on some fruits and vegs.

The paper “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” has been published in the journal Circulation.

Fruit and nectar eaters are nature’s most resilient alcohol drinkers

New research at the University of Calgary in Canada has identified nature’s stoutest drinkers — unsurprisingly, they’re all fruit eaters.

Primates like humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, alongside other mammals whose diets contain lots of fruit such as bats are nature’s best drinkers, the paper reports. Such animals had an evolutionary incentive to develop the ability to metabolize alcohol, they explain, which created a selective pressure in favor of this ability. However, it’s not just mammals that partake — pound for pound, bees are known to be some of the heaviest drinkers out there.

It’s in my genes

“Being able to eat a lot of fruit or nectar without being subject to the effects of ethanol would certainly open up an important food resource,” explains lead author Mareike Janiak from the University of Calgary.

Fruits are very useful in one’s diet: they’re full of good nutrients and contain a lot of energy in the form of sugars. But bacteria also know this and are liable to start eating (fermenting) those compounds into alcohol. Alcohol concentrations in fruits past their prime can reach up to 8.1%, the study reports. Nectar, the sweet liquid flowers produce to attract pollinating insects, can still reach a respectable 3.1% alcohol concentration. For comparison, beers typically revolve around the 4.1% alcohol concentration mark.

It’s understandable, then, that fruit-eaters could be exposed to quite a generous helping of alcohol during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The ability to metabolize alcohol would, therefore, be quite desirable for fruit-eating species, the paper explains, as it would prevent them from getting completely smashed on a daily basis — which helps with things such as avoiding predators, impressing potential mates, or just maintaining basic motor coordination.

In order to understand how different species developed this ability, Janiak and her team studied genetic data for over 85 different mammal species looking for a gene called AHD7. This gene encodes the production of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase 7, which is part of a larger family of proteins that mediates chemical redox reactions. This particular one is specialized in alcohols and, in short, it allows bodies to either break it down into its constituent parts or recombine it from said parts. In short, AHD7 is what allows us to process alcohol (and its inebriating effects) out of our systems.

Mammal species who regularly consume fruit or nectar are more likely to have a variant of ADH7 that’s more efficient at processing alcohol, the team reports. Among the species that have this gene variant number bonobos, aya-ayes, chimpanzees, gorillas, as well as humans. They say it comes down to our shared genetic history, tied together by a common ancestor “at least 10 million years ago, long before we began fermenting beverages on purpose”.

However, “it is a fallacy to assume that other animals share our metabolic adaptations, rather than taking into consideration each species’ unique physiology,” the authors note.

Fruit- and nectar-eating bats are also very good at processing alcohol, the team found, likely because “being inebriated would be bad news for a flying mammal, so being able to better metabolize ethanol could be an important adaptation for them”.

In contrast, mammals who typically exclude fruits or nectar from their diet — including horses, cows, or elephants — are poor at metabolizing alcohol because they have lost their functioning version of ADH7.

The paper “Genetic evidence of widespread variation in ethanol metabolism among mammals: revisiting the ‘myth’ of natural intoxication” has been published in the journal Biology Letters.

Diet lacking in fruit and vegetables linked to depression

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that a lower intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with a higher incidence of depression in both men and women. The same study also found that middle-aged and older women who immigrated to Canada were more likely to suffer from depression compared to Canadian-born women.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in various minerals and vitamins that are known to reduce the plasma concentrations of C-reactive protein, which is associated with low-grade inflammation.

Important nutrients affect brain chemistry, impacting mood, memory and cognitive function. Take a moment to realize that about 95% of your serotonin — the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and appetite, but also mediates mood and inhibits pain — is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which, by the way, is lined with over a hundred million nerve cells.

What’s more, simply eating at regular intervals, regardless of the food you intake, can have a significant impact. Research carried out by the University of Illinois Extension found that eating regular meals and snacks at the same time every day helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, which also helps keep your mood steady.

The researchers analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study, which involved 27,162 men and women aged 45 to 85 years, of whom 4,739 are immigrants.

The results suggest that men were more likely to experience depression if their diet consisted of high-fat food and lower levels of omega-3 eggs. The low intake of fruits and veggies was linked to depression in both men and women. Additionally, lower grip strength was also associated with depression.

“We were interested to learn that omega-3 polyunsaturated fats were inversely associated with depression among men.” said co-author Yu Lung, a doctoral student at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW). “Future research is needed to explore the pathways but it is plausible that increased omega-3 fatty acid concentration in the diet may influence central nervous system cell-membrane fluidity, and phospholipid composition, which may alter the structure and function of the embedded proteins and affect serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission.”

The Canadian researchers note that these findings highlight the mind-body connection, where an unhealthy body can cause changes in mood and brain chemistry, and vice-versa. The Canadian researchers found, for instance, that depression was associated with experiencing chronic pain and at least one chronic health condition.

For immigrant women, the study also found a higher likelihood of experiencing depression when compared to Canadian-born women. Interestingly, this connection did not apply to men.

“The older immigrant women in this study may have reported depression as a result of the substantial stress associated with settling in a new country such as having insufficient income, overcoming language barriers, facing discrimination, adapting to a different culture, reduced social support networks, and having their education and work experiences unrecognized,” said Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, senior author of the paper.

“Although we did not have the data to explore why there was a gender difference, it may be that in these older married couples it was the husband who initiated the immigration process and the wives may not have as much choice about whether or not they wanted to leave their homeland, said co-author Dr. Karen Kobayashi, Associate Dean Research and Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

The findings, which were published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, could define programs and policies that might help immigrants ease their transition to a new country.

This isn’t the first study to highlight the importance of a healthy diet for mental health. Previously, other research groups showed that eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, and lean meat, is associated with reduced risk of depression

If everyone ate enough veggies, we wouldn’t have enough to go around

If everyone on the globe ate as many vegetables as they should, we wouldn’t have enough of them to go around — but that’s not an excuse to skip your veggies!

Image credits: Michela / Flickr.

For the first time in history, there are more overweight than underweight people on the globe, and unhealthy diets have a lot to do with that. Unhealthy diets, in fact, are a leading cause of disease worldwide — and while eating healthy can be challenging and nutritional science isn’t always clear, one particular bit of advice always comes through: eat more fruits and vegetables.

The World Health Organization says each of us should eat 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day, but we really don’t — even as not eating enough of these kills millions of people every year. But here’s the kicker: even if we really wanted to, we couldn’t — not all of us, at least.

Low fruit and vegetable consumption is an important and long-running challenge for our modern society, researchers say. It has many interrelated causes, such as insufficient supply, poor access, low affordability, and high levels of waste, and while there has been significant progress in availability, it’s still not enough.

The world produces more than enough calories to meet consumption, so that’s not the issue here. It’s also not about meat consumption since typically, livestock consumes more calories than it offers. Instead, too many people eat poor-quality diets, characterized by “cheap calories, highly processed foods, and overconsumption,” the study reads. All these favor obesity while not offering all the necessary nutrients.

“Current diets are detrimental to both human and planetary health and shifting towards more balanced, predominantly plant-based diets is seen as crucial to improving both,” write the authors of the new Lancet Planetary Health study.

Currently, just 55% of people around the globe live in places with adequate availability of fruits and vegetables, the study concludes — the remaining 3.3 billion people, not so much.

According to realistic projections presented in the study, that figure will drop to 1.5 billion by 2050. There will continue to be insufficient supply — unless food waste is reduced and productivity is substantially improved. For instance, countries such as India or Morocco will produce sufficient fruits and veggies by 2050, whereas several countries in the Americas, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa won’t.

“We show that even under more optimistic consumer waste scenarios, many countries will probably fail to supply sufficient fruits and vegetables to meet recommended consumption levels,” researchers write.

However, this isn’t a call to eat less fruits and veggies — quite the opposite. Not only are they healthier for you, but they also use up fewer resources than most alternatives. The challenge is to promote a food system that moves “its focus from quantity toward dietary quality and health,” the researchers say,

Less than a third of all Americans have a healthy weight — the vast majority are overweight or obese. Image via Wikipedia.

In order to reach this goal, several actions are needed. For starters, we need to increase investment in fruit and vegetable production. Simultaneously, as this happens, it would be best if societal consumption is shifted more towards fruits and vegetables so that the extra production isn’t wasted. Speaking of waste, food waste is also a massive problem — each and every one of us, along with all stakeholders involved (such as supermarkets and restaurants) need to curb our food waste. We currently waste around a third of all the food we produce, and that’s simply not acceptable if we want to feed the world a healthy diet. New practices need to be put in place to reduce food waste, and researchers also speculate that new technologies can help with that. Lastly, we need to educate people about the importance of healthy diets, and fruits/veggies in particular.

Simply put, we need to produce more vegetables, and we need to convince more people to eat them instead of processed alternatives.

It’s also important to consider the environmental aspects of it. Replacing more meat and processed foods with foods based on fruits and vegetables will make for a healthier society, as well as a healthier planet, reducing not only water consumption and land usage but also greenhouse gas emissions. It’s killing two birds with one stone: ensuring environmental sustainability and providing healthier diets.

Ultimately, researchers conclude:

“Achieving recommended consumption levels will require concentrated efforts across the food system to reorient investments and interventions to prioritise fruits and vegetables more. It will require additional investments in research and development to encourage more fruit and vegetable production, while decreasing its environmental footprint, as well as new processing, storage, and distribution technologies to reduce waste. Targeted fiscal policies such as price supports and procurement policies should also be considered to supplement public awareness efforts to incentivise consumer behaviour change.”

The study was published in The Lancet Planetary Health.


Not eating enough fruits and veggies kills millions of people every year

The preliminary results of a major new study show that about 1 in 7 cardiovascular deaths could be attributed to not eating enough fruit and 1 in 12 cardiovascular deaths could be attributed to not eating enough vegetables.

The bottom line — you should probably eat more fruits and vegetables.

Your mom was probably right: you should eat more fruits and veggies — you and millions of other people. Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, serving as an excellent source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, antioxidants — all of which have been shown to improve health. They’re also associated with a lower incidence of obesity and diabetes, which also carry multiple health risks.

A new study finds that insufficient intake of fruits and veggies is responsible for around 23% of all cardiovascular (CVD) fatalities. Low fruit intake was associated with nearly 1.8 million cardiovascular deaths in 2010, while low vegetable intake was associated with 1 million deaths, according to researchers. In terms of both fatalities and intake, the toll of insufficient fruit consumption was double than that of vegetables.

“Fruits and vegetables are a modifiable component of diet that can impact preventable deaths globally,” said lead study author Victoria Miller, a postdoctoral researcher at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “Our findings indicate the need for population-based efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption throughout the world.”

Nutrition is extremely complex and often times, studies can sometimes seem contradictory, but the science has been remarkably consistent when it comes to fruits and vegetables: they’re good for you. Replacing them with processed foods, or things like meat and dairy, often has substantial and long-lasting negative effects. The study authors call for increased availability and promotion of fruits and vegetables, so that people can be encouraged to incorporate more of them into their diet.

“Global nutrition priorities have traditionally focused on providing sufficient calories, vitamin supplementation and reducing additives like salt and sugar,” said senior study author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “These findings indicate a need to expand the focus to increasing availability and consumption of protective foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes–a positive message with tremendous potential for improving global health.”

So how much fruits and veggies should you eat?

In the United States, suboptimal vegetable intake may account for 82,000 cardiovascular deaths while suboptimal fruit intake may account for 57,000 deaths. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and worldwide. Image credits: Global Dietary Database 2010/Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University.

The dietary guidelines vary slightly from country to country, but they all seem to hover around 300 grams per day for fruit consumption — the equivalent of about two apples. Meanwhile, veggie consumption should come at 400 grams per day — about three carrots (this includes all fruits and vegetables, including legumes).

Naturally, the impact of insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption was greatest where the consumption was lowest. Countries like the US, India, and several countries in Eastern Europe have a higher impact than places such as China or Western and Northern Europe.

There were also important differences based on age groups, seeming to disproportionately affect younger adults. Men were also more affected, presumably because women tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.

The findings have not been peer-reviewed and will be presented at the Nutrition 2019 conference, where they were selected by a committee of experts. This is the most comprehensive study of its kind to date.

“Inadequate fruit and vegetable intake contributes to cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and the impacts of fruits and vegetables on CVD risk worldwide has not been well established by country, age, and sex. Our objective was to derive comprehensive and accurate estimates of the burdens of CVD attributable to fruit and vegetable consumption using the largest standardized global dietary database currently available,” the study’s abstract reads.

The results paint a worrying picture, but there is also some good news: increasing consumption of fruits and veggies is, at least in theory, pretty easy. Each and every one of us can make this decision every day. Increasing consumption at a wider scale, which is what researchers are suggesting, remains much more challenging, but a thorough assessment is the first step.


Prescribing fruits and veggies to children has lasting positive effects

Should fruits and veggies be prescribed just like medicine? These researchers believe that at least in some cases, the answer is yes.

Should we be prescribing fruits?

In 2015, the Hurley Children’s Center in Michigan was relocated to the second floor of the downtown Flint Farmers’ Market. The center, which is associated with Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, wanted to take advantage of this and launched a program to encourage families to shop at the farmers market. So they started a program in which they would give families a $15 prescription, redeemable at the market.

This is particularly important in places like Flint, which are considered urban food deserts: places where people can’t afford and/or don’t have much access to healthy foods. About 60% of the city’s children live in poverty, and most of them get their calories from low-quality, sugar-rich, and fat-rich sources. There aren’t even that many grocery stores in the city.

All in all, the conditions are ripe for an unhealthy eating epidemic — and doctors wanted to deal with it as you would with any other medical problem.

“Fruit and vegetable intake tracks from childhood to adulthood, making it important for healthcare professionals to guide children towards healthy eating early on,” said lead researcher Amy Saxe-Custack, assistant professor at Michigan State University and nutrition director of the Michigan State University-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative. “We need to consider not only nutrition education but also barriers to access and affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly in underserved areas. The prescription program is a first step to introducing fresh, high-quality produce to children.”

In a new study, Saxe-Custack and her colleagues present the results of this approach. They carried out interviews with parents from Flint, finding that those who had received the $15 prescription were much more likely to shop at the farmers market than the ones who hadn’t. In other words, families who were once given the opportunity to eat healthy food for free were much more likely to start paying for healthy food. They were also more concerned with the overall dietary patterns of their children.

“The caregivers shared their heartfelt appreciation for the physicians and medical staff who introduced the prescriptions,” said Saxe-Custack. “Some talked about how they enjoy visiting the farmers’ market with their kids and guiding the children to use the prescriptions for their favorite fruits and vegetables. Others described how they hold on to the prescriptions until they reach $30 to $40 and redeem them at the market when food dollars are limited.”

Of course, access to healthy food remains a problem — especially as, in many cases, healthy food is much more expensive than cheaper, less healthy alternatives. But if a prescription can convince parents to at least try and give their children healthy foods, why not try it?

The results will be presented at the Nutrition 2018 conference. The paper has not been peer-reviewed yet.

Add another perk to eating fruits and veggies: they lower blood pressure

As if we needed another reason to eat fruits and vegetables, a new study found another benefit of these natural foods: lowering blood pressure.

Does this not look delicious to you? Image credits: Peggy Greb, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Researchers from the University of Southern California have found a link between increased dietary potassium and lower blood pressure.

“Decreasing sodium intake is a well-established way to lower blood pressure,” McDonough says, “but evidence suggests that increasing dietary potassium may have an equally important effect on hypertension.”

McDonough started his study by reviewing recent studies on rodent models, illustrating the effect potassium has on blood pressure. He found that increased dietary potassium pushes the kidneys to excrete more water and salt, which lowers blood pressure. He then analyzed the same effect in humans, finding similar results.

This study is concerning especially for Western people, whose diet is high in sodium intake and low in potassium intake — this increases the odds of developing high blood pressure. Processed foods especially are rich in salt and low in potassium. If we want to counterbalance that, we should eat more foods rich in potassium: especially fruits and veggies.

But how much is enough? McDonough references a 2004 Institute of Medicine report which recommends that adults consume at least 4.7 grams of potassium per day to lower blood pressure — that’s the equivalent of to eating a cup and a half of black beans, for example, or a big portion of spinach. Bananas, prunes, raisins, and yogurt are other good sources of potassium. McDonough suggests developing public policies to increase intake of dietary potassium from plant-based sources and adding the potassium content to labels to make people more aware of potassium sources. In 2009-2010, the average dietary potassium intake of the U.S. population aged two years and older was 2.6 grams per day — not nearly enough.

This is another addition to the long list of benefits that fruits and veggies provide. The higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. A diet rich in fruits and veggies also reduces blood pressure directly (in addition to the potassium mechanism) and numerous studies have found that fruits and veggies go a long way towards protecting your body of diabetes.

Journal Reference: Alicia A. McDonough, Luciana C. Veiras, Claire A. Guevara, Donna L. Ralph. Cardiovascular benefits associated with higher dietary K vs. lower dietary Na evidence from population and mechanistic studies. American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology And Metabolism, 2017; 312 (4): E348 DOI: 10.1152/ajpendo.00453.2016




Give ugly veggies and fruits a second chance – they’re just as tasty


According to the United Nations, 20 to 40 percent of fresh food is thrown away by farmers because they don’t look as appetizing as they should to sell. Besides looking a bit crooked, twisted or shrugged, these fruits and vegetables are perfectly edible and taste no different than the perfectly shaped ones you’re always on the lookout for in the supermarket.


Acknowledging this dreadful waste, the European Union has started a campaign to raise awareness and convince consumers eating unaesthetic veggies is perfectly fine. To this aim, they’ve teamed up with French retailer Intermarche for a pilot campaign called the “Inglorious Vegetables and Fruits”. Working together with farmers and retail stores, ugly vegetables and fruits were sold with a 30% discount, much to the delight of customers who flocked to the stands, proving they need not much convincing. Everybody seems to be happy: customers get tasty fresh food at a hefty discount, farmers earn more by selling products which would have otherwise been discarded, and retailers can benefit from a greater sales volume. The fresh food pie just got bigger!


The little town of Provins, outside Paris, where the first such Intermache experiment was made is not alone. In Portugal,  a food cooperative called Fruta Feia (Ugly Fruit) buys produce too gnarly for supermarkets and sells it to customers, reports the New York Times. A similar initiative is preparing to run in the United Kingdom.

Kids eat 54% more fruits and veggies if recess comes before school lunch

Children nutrition in schools in the US has a big problem – not only are the kids not eating enough fruits and vegetables (which leads to health issues later on in life), but a study has shown that kids waste millions of dollars every day by throwing away the fruits and veggies. Now, a new study has found that a no-cost trick could greatly improve that: just have recess before lunch – not after.

I used to love recess when I was in school; to be honest, it was my favorite thing about school for a long time. Most kids are like that – they can’t wait to get outside and play and talk to their friends. Of course, if you had to choose between playing and eating, most kids would clearly prefer the former; after all, eating is no fun.

“Recess is a pretty big deal for most kids. If you have kids choose between playing and eating their veggies, the time spent playing is going to win most of the time,” said Joe Price, an economics professor at Brigham Young University. “You just don’t want to set the opportunity cost of good behaviors too high.”

In other words, it costs them something – precious play time. Switch around that time, and they will start eating more fruits and veggies. Price is the lead study author and collaborated with Cornell’s David Just for this study. They had three schools in in a Utah school district (grades 1-6) switch to recess before lunch and monitored them. They also monitored normal schools, who stuck to the old schedule.

Image via Harvard.

For four days in spring and nine days in the fall, they measured how much healthy food was wasted by standing next to the trash cans and recording the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that each student consumed or threw away. They also measured whether or not the students actually ate the fruits. After analyzing 22,939 data points, the researchers concluded that in the schools that switched recess to before lunch children ate 54% more fruits and vegetables.

There was also a 45% increase in those eating at least one serving of fruits and vegetables. When this doesn’t happen and kids don’t have a balanced meal at school, their academic performance can drop. This can also lead to excessive snacking which of course can, in time, lead to obesity and a myriad of health related issues. Because moving recess is a no-cost way to make kids healthier and make the school meal program more successful, Price and Just recommend that every school do the switch.

“Increased fruit and vegetable consumption in young children can have positive long term health effects. Additionally, decreasing waste of fruits and vegetables is important for schools and districts that are faced with high costs of offering healthier food choices.”

This is the kind of study which will leave policy makers wondering “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”.

Journal Reference: Joseph Price, David R. Just. Lunch, recess and nutrition: Responding to time incentives in the cafeteria. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.11.016

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death by 42 percent

Image Credits.

Everybody knows (or at least should know) that eating fruits and vegetables is good for you; however, most people underestimate their beneficial effects. A new research has shown that eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42 percent compared to eating less than one portion.

This comprehensive study was the first to link fruit and vegetable consumption with all-cause, cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally-representative population, as well as quantify the benefits per portion. Scientists used the Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65,226 people representative of the English population over a period of 12 years, from 2001 and 2013.

They results showed that compared to eating 1 or less portions of fruit and vegetable per day 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 effect started to become negligible after seven portions). A portion (more commonly called a “serving” in the US) is usually around 80g – which is about an apple, or a carrot, or say two cups of spinach. You also don’t have to split them into 7 different times, you could split them into 2 or 3 or 4 meals.

The main argument against this kind of study is also has to compensate for other factors; researchers compensated for participants sex, age, cigarette smoking, social class, Body Mass Index, education, physical activity and alcohol intake – but there is always a little debate with the parameters used to compensate these factors.

The study, which was published in Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, found that fresh vegetables had the biggest effect, and with each daily portion reducing overall risk of death by 16%. Salad contributed to a 13% risk reduction per portion, while fruit had a smaller, but still considerable contribution of 4% (however, this may be caused by canned/frozen fruits, read below for more details).

“We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” says Dr Oyinlola Oyebode of UCL’s Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, lead author of the study. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.”

This fits in really well with the Australian recommendations – their ‘Go for 2 + 5’ recommends eating two portions of fruits and five portions of vegetables each day. The UK department of Health recommends ‘5 a day’, while ‘Fruit and Veggies — More Matters’ is the key message in the USA. However, most of Europe typically eats more fruits and vegetables than both of these countries.

“Our study shows that people following Australia’s ‘Go for 2 + 5’ advice will reap huge health benefits,” says Dr Oyebode. “However, people shouldn’t feel daunted by a big target like seven. Whatever your starting point, it is always worth eating more fruit and vegetables. In our study even those eating one to three portions had a significantly lower risk than those eating less than one”

The takeaway message here is not to focus on a specific number; what you should focus on is eating more vegetables and fruits, especially fresh ones. The survey did not distinguish between canned and frozen fruit, and this is also an issue:

“Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup rather than fruit juice,” explains Dr Oyebode. “The negative health impacts of the sugar may well outweigh any benefits. Another possibility is that there are confounding factors that we could not control for, such as poor access to fresh groceries among people who have pre-existing health conditions, hectic lifestyles or who live in deprived areas.”

If they would consider only fresh fruit, the 4% figure would almost certainly go up.

Journal Reference:

  1. Oyinlola Oyebode, Vanessa Gordon-Dseagu, Alice Walker, Jennifer S Mindell.Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England dataJ Epidemiol Community Health, 31 March 2014 DOI: 10.1136/jech-2013-203500

Skip the juice, go for whole fruit

For some reason which continues to elude me, people are eating less and less fruit – but perhaps the increasing consumption of juice has something to do with this. Now, a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health researchers has shown that eating more fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples, was associated with a significantly lower risk of type II diabetes, while the consumption of fruit juice was associated with an increase in this risk.

“While fruits are recommended as a measure for diabetes prevention, previous studies have found mixed results for total fruit consumption. Our findings provide novel evidence suggesting that certain fruits may be especially beneficial for lowering diabetes risk,” said senior author Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and assistant professor of medicine at the Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Researchers analyzed a huge amount of data (187,382 participants) gathered from 1984 and 2008; any participants who reported a diagnosis of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at enrollment were excluded. Results showed that 12,198 participants (6.5 percent) developed diabetes during the study period.

They then analyzed overall fruit consumption, as well as individual fruit consumption: apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, blueberries, grapes and raisins – nothing was spared. They also analyzed how much fruit juice the subjects drank.

People who ate at least two servings each week of certain whole fruits (most notably blueberries, grapes, and apples, though all fruits showed positive effects) reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by as much as 23 percent in comparison to those who ate less than one serving per month. They also concluded that swapping three servings of juice per week for whole fruits would result in a 7 percent reduction in diabetes risk.

“Our data further endorse current recommendations on increasing whole fruits, but not fruit juice, as a measure for diabetes prevention,” said lead author Isao Muraki, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH. “And our novel findings may help refine this recommendation to facilitate diabetes prevention.”

Via Harvard.