It's hardly shocking to hear that you should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, but a new study is breaking down exactly how many you need of each to live longer.
The study, which was published in the journal Circulation, analyzed data from 66,719 women from the Nurses' Health Study and 42,016 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and compared it with information on fruit and vegetable intake and death from 26 studies. After analyzing the data, the researchers found that having five servings of fruits and vegetables a day was linked to a longer life span.
When compared to people who had just two servings of fruit and vegetables a day, those who had five servings a day had a 13 percent lower risk of death from any cause, a 12 percent lower risk of death from heart disease, a 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer and a 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
The researchers got even more specific with the recommendations, noting that having three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit daily is ideal. Based on their findings, though, having more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day won't make you live longer.
Not all fruits and vegetables are created equal, based on the findings.
The researchers discovered that starchy vegetables like peas, corn and potatoes were not linked with a longer lifespan. Fruit juice also doesn't count, per the study.
Spinach, lettuce, kale and carrots are considered good options for vegetables, while berries and citrus fruits got high marks in the fruit department.
Fruit juice and potatoes specifically got called out in the conclusion, with the researchers writing, “These findings support current dietary recommendations to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, but not fruit juice and potatoes.”
Currently, the American Heart Association recommends having four servings of fruit a day and five servings of vegetables a day. A serving can include a medium piece of fruit, a 1/2 cup of fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables and a cup of raw leafy vegetables.
It is important to remember that, at baseline, people who ate more vegetables tended to exercise more, drink less alcohol and did not smoke.
So, why do the recommendations lean more heavily toward vegetables than fruits? It comes down to calories. One of the biggest predictors of developing a chronic health condition is excess visceral fat. Fruit, generally speaking, has more calories than vegetables and, over time, having more vegetables will allow you to get full with fewer calories.
Vegetables also tend to be more nutrient-dense than fruit — more nutrients, fewer calories — and are especially high in nutrients that many people miss out on, like folate, iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium.
Vegetables also tend to have more fiber and less sugar than fruits, Plus, fiber feeds the good gut bacteria that produce more compounds to improve health and reduce risk for disease.
But why were potatoes, peas and corn called out? Potatoes, peas, and corn are known to be starchier vegetables, These vegetables also have more calories than their counterparts. They all can be part of a healthy diet but, when comparing, say, spinach, which has seven calories per cup to peas, which have 118, there is no competition.
Most people can see a big change when they incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet.