How to Enjoy Optimal Nutrition From Your Fruits and Veggies

Eating "Five a Day" may optimize your health.

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A young girl in a field holds a basket filled with freshly-picked vegetables.

(Tatevosian Yana / Shutterstock.com)

Eating a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables is recommended by doctors and nutritionists as a way of staying healthy. A brand new study in Circulation takes the “5 A Day'' nutritional campaign and makes it official. Their advice? Three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit a day are optimal for a healthy life.

The study was publicized by the American Heart Association (AHA). Dr. Anne Thorndike, chair of the AHA nutrition committee, said in an AHA in a press release, “This research provides strong evidence for the lifelong benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and suggests a goal amount to consume daily for ideal health.” The AHA concurs that eating fruits and vegetables are essential for overall health, especially heart health.

The lead author of the study was Dr. Dong D. Wang, a nutritionist and epidemiologist from Harvard. Researchers studied 2 million people from across the world. They looked at data from ongoing studies with over 100,000 adults, including information from the well-known Nurses' Health Study.

They also collected data from another 26 studies in 29 countries. This represents a total of 1.9 million people living on each continent. This is serious research with results that could improve nutritional habits across the globe. Their conclusions are important as only one in ten Americans eats enough fruits and vegetables, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The researchers found that people who ate the recommended five servings daily had a 12 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart disease. In addition, they had a lower risk of cancer death by ten percent as well as a 35 percent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease.

The conclusions of this study also enhance the 5 A Day campaign originally designed by the World Health Organization (WHO). In it, the WHO recommended at least five portions of fruit and vegetables but did not break this down into how many servings of each is optimal. Their campaign was developed based on the fact that 2.7 million people were dying each year due to eating too few vegetables and fruits, according to a WHO news release.

Since many do not understand which vegetables are associated with improving their health, the Circulation study points out that all leafy greens, especially spinach, kale, and lettuce are the best choices. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and corn are not considered greens.

As for the healthiest fruits, the study recommends choosing those rich in vitamin C and beta carotene. Citrus fruits, berries, and carrots are favored. The research also points out that fruit juice should not be included as a fruit.  

The hope is that more people will understand the importance of their food choices. And thanks to this meticulous research, explicit and clear-cut dietary information is available to all. According to Thorndike, the AHA suggests filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. When you next sit down to eat, remember the three plus two rule and enjoy good health.

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