Tag Archives: veggies

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.

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.

Astronauts on the International Space Station will grow probiotic-rich broccoli

Just because you’re in outer space is no excuse to skip your 5 a day.

Space veggies

Space food is not the most appealing thing in the world. Sure, it’s nutritious and it’s exactly what your body needs for those months away from Earth, but astronauts would still benefit from growing their own vegetables — especially for longer missions to the Moon or Mars.

It’s not the first time astronauts have considered growing vegetables in space — in fact, this has been done before by NASA, and the veggies have actually been eaten. Yes, they were reportedly delicious. Now, NASA wants to expand its range of space veggies, but growing plants in microgravity is not the easiest thing in the world: You need a carefully managed environment, a steady source of light, and even then, we don’t know if all plants will grow properly.

But we’ll learn soon enough.

Astronauts will start growing broccoli from six seeds that were placed aboard the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft that launched this week from Wallops Island, Virginia, as part of a space station cargo resupply mission. Three of the seeds are regular seeds, while the other three were coated with two different species of bacteria, developed at the University of Washington: beneficial bacteria called probiotics.

These probiotics are expected to help the plants grow in the unusual, nutrient-poor environment. The special bacteria belong to a class called endophytes, and are expected to help the plants better develop in micro-gravity.

“It would be ideal if we could grow crops for astronauts at the space station or who are lunar- or Mars-based without needing to ship potting mix or fertilizer,” said Sharon Doty, a UW professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and a plant microbiologist who isolated and characterized the microbes used in this experiment. “We would like to be able to get plants to grow in what is available with a minimum input.”

Growing veggies on the International Space Station is no easy feat.

Remarkably, the probiotic ensemble was developed by students at Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California, The 11 students carried out ground-based tests which were successful: the probiotic bacteria helped the plants grow bigger and faster than normal. It remains to be seen if the same will happen in space.

“It would be ideal if we could grow crops for astronauts at the space station or who are lunar- or Mars-based without needing to ship potting mix or fertilizer,” said Sharon Doty, a UW professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and a plant microbiologist who isolated and characterized the microbes used in this experiment. “We would like to be able to get plants to grow in what is available with a minimum input.”

Not just broccoli

The microbes are encapsulated inside a coating that protects the seeds. As the seeds sprout, a camera will monitor them and take photos at regular intervals of time.

While a number of different vegetables have already been grown in space, this is the first time probiotics will be employed for plant growth. After the plants will grow in outer space, they will be brought back to Earth, where Doty and the students will measure their growth and development.

Doty has worked on this project for more than ten years, and so far, results indicate that the probiotics could help plants of all kinds, helping them convert nitrogen from the air into essential nutrients for the plant and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer.

This work is part of the UW Astrobiology Program. When the program was started 20 years ago, it was the first of its kind.

“This is the first step in what I hope becomes a really long-term research program to develop habitation on Mars and on the moon in a very efficient way using natural symbiosis instead of trying to bring chemical fertilizer to those environments,” Doty concluded.

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