By Ross Walker

One of the most accepted truths in medicine is the benefits of regular ingestion of fruit and vegetables. It’s been the standard suggestion for many decades to have, on a daily basis, two to three pieces of fruit, along with three servings of vegetables. A serving is half a carrot, as an example.

The regular ingestion of this dose of fruit and vegetables is associated with reductions in all forms of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many other chronic conditions. It’s a sad fact that only 10% of modern society would consume this amount of fruit and vegetables on a regular basis.

There have been four recent studies which have reinforced this notion to an even greater level:

Study One

The regular ingestion of fruit and vegetables is associated with lower rates of lung disease. A study of 44,000 Swedish men, aged between 45 to 79 who were followed up for 13 years, showed over 60% had smoked at some stage in their life, 24% were current smokers and just under 40% had never smoked.

During this time, just over 1900 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were diagnosed. The rates of COPD in those who had less than two servings per day of fruit and vegetables were 1,166 per hundred thousand cases in current smokers, and 506 per hundred thousand in former smokers. When compared with those people who had five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, there was a 35% reduction in the risk of COPD.

Interestingly, it appears that the best benefits come from leafy green vegetables, capsicum, apples and pears. Interestingly, there was no effect in regard to COPD from the regular ingestion of berries, citrus fruits, bananas, roots and cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, garlic, onions and green peas.

Study Two

The second study looked at the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and dementia. It’s estimated that around 47.5 million people suffer dementia globally and this is expected to triple by 2050. Having the recommended two pieces of fruit and three servings vegetables per day has been demonstrated in the study to show a significant reduction in dementia. The study looked at 17,700 older Chinese adults who were followed up for six years.

There was an even greater reduction in dementia seen with every extra three portions per day of fruit and vegetables. It is felt that the protection against dementia seen in the regular ingestion of fruit and vegetables is due to the high concentration of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and B-group vitamins.

Study Three

The third study looked at the psychological well-being of young adults. This was a very short-term study, performed on 171 students in New Zealand aged 18 to 25. They divided the students into three groups. The first group was advised to continue eating their normal food without any change. The second group were given two additional servings of fruit and vegetables by the investigators. The third group were given prepaid produce vouchers with text messages sent to remind them to eat their fruit and vegetables.

A psychological assessment was performed at the start of the trial and two weeks later looking at the parameters of mood, vitality, motivation and the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Only those physically given the two additional servings of fruit vegetables showed any improvements and these were purely in mood vitality and motivation. There were no changes in the indicators of depression and anxiety and in reality, it would take much longer for the brain chemicals to change than the short two-week period of this trial.

Study Four

The final, and probably most striking trial, was a meta-analysis of 95 studies on two million people. The trial showed clearly that the higher the intake of fruit and vegetables, the stronger the benefit. This study basically looked at double the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables i.e. 10 portions of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis, which is the equivalent of 800g or 10 servings. Those who ingested 10 portions per day had the lowest risk of death and premature disease. 

Of the two million people, there were 43,000 cases of ischaemic heart disease, 47,000 cases of stroke, 81,000 cases of cardiovascular disease and 94,000 deaths. Those who ingested 10 portions per day of fruit and vegetables had an overall 33% reduction in death and disease. It appears that apples, pears, leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage give the best benefits. The study also showed that even 2.5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day led to an 18% reduction in stroke, 16% reduction in heart disease, 13% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 4% reduction in cancer. With each 200 gram increase in fruit and vegetables i.e. 2.5 portions per day, there was a 15% reduction in death.

When you compare those people who had minimal fruit and vegetables to those who had 10 portions per day, there was a 33% reduction in stroke, 28% reduction in cardiovascular disease, 24% reduction in heart disease, 13% reduction in cancer and an overall 31% reduction in death.

It was suggested that if everyone on the planet had 10 portions per day of fruit and vegetables, we would prevent 7.8 million deaths a year globally.

So, the big question is, which veggies are best? It appears that there were no benefits when separating raw and cooked vegetables. Apples, pears, citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach) and cruciferous vegetables (e.g. cabbage and broccoli) are the best for reduction in stroke, cardiovascular disease, heart disease and premature death. The best reductions for cancer were leafy green vegetables, yellow or red vegetables such as capsicum and carrots.

The message is very clear - listen to what your grandmother said and eat your fruits and vegetables.