More produce, longer life

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It’s official: fruits and vegetables are good for you! Perhaps not really “news” to most people, but a plethora of research confirms that fruits and vegetables may help lower risk of death and add years to life.

Fruits and vegetables look beautiful, smell good and taste delicious, so the added bonus of increased longevity should make them even more appealing.

One large epidemiological study conducted by researchers from the University Medical Center in Utrecht followed nearly half a million people from ten European countries that were enrolled between the years 1992 and 2000. By the year 2010, 25,682 deaths had been reported among these study participants with 41% due to cancer and 20% from cardiovascular disease.

Years of research

Overall, analysis revealed a 10% reduction in mortality for the top 25% vs the bottom 25% of fruit and vegetable consumers. In fact for every 200 g of daily produce consumed mortality risk was reduced by 6%.

When cardiovascular disease was considered on its own, a fruit and vegetable-rich diet was associated with a 15% reduction in mortality; if the vegetables were raw it was even higher! Interestingly, there were even more pronounced effects in unhealthy people–alcohol users exhibited a 30-40% reduction while the obese had a 20% reduction.

Extensive studies

In a 2014 meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal, researchers compiled 16 different studies, totaling over 833,000 participants across the United States, Europe, and Asia. After analyzing results from all of these studies, researchers concluded average risk of death from any cause reduced by 5% for each additional daily serving of fruits and vegetables.

They noticed this trend up until people hit five servings a day, which appeared to be the magic number for reducing risk of death. Anything over five servings yielded no additional risk reduction. For this study, researchers considered a serving 77 grams for vegetables and 80 grams for fruit.

Antioxidants and polyphenols

Scientists propose antioxidants and polyphenols in fruits and vegetables, such as vitamin C, flavonoids, and carotenoids, might be to thank. These compounds have been shown to prevent cholesterol and fat oxidation and promote blood flow, and likely contribute to reduced risk of mortality. Fruits and vegetables are also packed with magnesium and potassium, which other studies have linked to lower risk of death. The observed threshold of five servings a day might be due to availability of these nutrients and the digestibility of fruits and vegetables.

Five portions of fruit and vegetable

More evidence shows the right foods can extend longevity: A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that eating five servings a day of fruits and vegetables increases lifespan by nearly three years. The results are based on data collected from more than 71,000 Swedes, ages 45 to 83, who were followed for 13 years.

Those who ate at least three servings of vegetables a day lived almost three years longer than people who reported not eating vegetables. People who reported eating no fruit or vegetables at the start of the study were 53 percent more likely to die during the follow-up period than those who got their five daily servings.

Beneficial for the brain

Living longer is less appealing with the process of losing one’s wits – but fortunately, a veggie-rich diet yields brain benefits as well. Researchers at Rush University in Chicago collected dietary data from 3,718 adults 65 years and older administering memory tests over the course of six years. It turned out that those who ate more than four servings (that’s two cups) of vegetables had a 38% decrease in the rate of mental deterioration compared to those who ate less than one serving (half a cup) of vegetables per day.

Research from Harvard also found women who ate more leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables improved their odds of maintaining mental acuity. Particularly greens, such as spinach, may even be able to reverse cognitive decline.

Prepare properly

All of this evidence gives even more reason to fill your plates with fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of colorful plant foods might be a step in promoting health and overall longevity. All you need is five servings a day.

Get the most flavor and nutrition out of your veggies by using cooking techniques to preserve natural flavors, boost color, and save the nutrients. Steam vegetables in the microwave, roast in the oven or lightly sauté with olive oil.  Add fresh fruit to yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies, or just eat it whole on its own as a snack.

Fruits and vegetables are colorful, delicious, and nutritious, and they may even help you live longer.

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