If you want to add years to your life, 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables may be the best recipe you can follow, a new analysis suggests.
The benefits appear to come through lower rates of heart attack, stroke, cancer and early death. And if everyone found a way to get 10 daily servings of produce, 7.8 million premature deaths would be avoided each year worldwide, the British researchers estimated.
Exactly how much in the way of fruits and vegetables is that? Anywhere from 10 small bananas or apples to 30 tablespoons of cooked spinach, peas, broccoli or cauliflower — or roughly 800 grams of produce, the researchers said.
At least five servings (400 grams) of fruits and vegetables each day is what is currently recommended by many health agencies.
“Although five portions of fruit and vegetables is good, 10 a day is even better,” said study author Dagfinn Aune, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.
But even just over two portions a day made a difference in the review, the researchers added.
Eating 2.5 portions (200 grams) of produce on a daily basis was associated with reductions in: heart disease (by 16 percent); stroke (18 percent); cardiovascular disease (13 percent); cancer risk (4 percent); and premature death (15 percent).
The results for 10 daily servings were even stronger: a 24 percent reduced risk of heart disease; a 33 percent reduced risk of stroke; a 28 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease; a 13 percent reduced risk of cancer; and a 31 percent reduction in premature death risk.
“Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system,” Aune said in a university news release.
“This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold. For instance, they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage, and lead to a reduction in cancer risk,” Aune explained.
However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link between eating more fruits and vegetables and longer life.
“Most likely it is the whole package of beneficial nutrients you obtain by eating fruits and vegetables that is crucial in health,” Aune said.
“This is why it is important to eat whole plant foods to get the benefit, instead of taking antioxidant or vitamin supplements (which have not been shown to reduce disease risk),” Aune noted.
Together, the 95 studies the Imperial College London scientists analyzed included almost 2 million people.
In their review, the researchers also found signs that these types of produce seemed to confer the greatest benefits: apples, pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower), and green and yellow vegetables (such as green beans, spinach, carrots and peppers).
The study was published Feb. 22 in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
For more about proper diet, try the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.