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5 Daily Servings of Fruits and Veggies May Help You Live Longer: Study

Woman Eating Fruit

 

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Key Takeaways

  • A study found that eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day helped lower participants' risk of death.
  • This lower risk was specifically associated with two daily fruit servings and three non-starchy vegetable servings.
  • Experts say eating more than five servings can beneficial.

It's no surprise that eating a share of fruits and greens every day is good for your health. But a study published in March, 2021, highlights just how much you should be eating—finding that five servings of fruits and vegetables a day can lower your risk of death.

"The study showcases the benefits of consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables a day for healthy chronic disease risk reduction, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease,” Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, a registered dietitian and partner with Produce for Better Health Foundation, tells Verywell. Amidor was not involved with the study.

While experts recommend eating fruits and vegetables for overall health, for this study researchers sought to take a closer look at the optimal amount one should aim for every day for disease prevention. The study was published in the journal Circulation.

To do this, researchers collected data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professional Follow-Up Study. They included over 100,000 subjects from a 30-year period in their evaluation. Additionally, researchers conducted a meta-analysis on 26 more studies.

Ultimately, the researchers found that eating five servings of fruit and vegetables resulted in a lower risk of death. This lower risk was specifically associated with two daily fruit servings and three non-starchy vegetable servings.

Researchers found no additional protection for eating additional servings. The authors didn't find any potential harm associated with eating more than five servings; there just doesn't appear to be an added benefit. 

The foods that showed a particular benefit included:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • Cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower)
  • Citrus fruit (like oranges)
  • Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables (like strawberries and kiwi)
  • Beta-carotene-rich fruit and vegetables (like carrots)

The foods that neither showed benefit nor increased risk of death included:

  • Starchy vegetables (like peas and corn)
  • Potato
  • Fruit juice

Compared to those who consumed only two fruit and vegetable servings a day, those who consumed five servings a day had a 13% reduced risk of death.

“The results of this study are important for the general population to show them that you don’t have to eat a plate full of fruits and vegetables to reap the benefits they have to offer to your health,” Kathleen Oswalt, RDN, a South Carolina-based registered dietitian, tells Verywell. “For many people, two fruits and three vegetables per day can seem much more manageable and doable than 10 fruits and vegetables per day.”

What This Means For You

Aiming for a daily intake of five fruit and vegetable servings per day is a practice that can have a profound impact on your overall health. Start by slowly adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet, and planning out at what meals you'll work to include them in. By repeating these practices, you can eventually make five servings a day part of your daily routine.

Should People Avoid Certain Fruits and Vegetables?

While the current study highlights the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables for your health, it singles out a few as less beneficial than others—specifically potatoes, peas, corn, and 100% fruit juice. Experts don't necessarily agree.

“Based on this study, I would not change my recommendations that both potatoes and 100% fruit juice can be part of a healthy dietary pattern and healthy lifestyle,” Amidor explains. “Isolating specific foods is not helpful or reflective of how Americans actually eat.” 

Even if they aren't linked to a lower risk of death, they contain important nutrients and can be a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Take potassium, for example. Potatoes and 100% orange juice are two natural sources of potassium, something the study authors indicate contributes to lower blood pressure.

Potatoes and certain juices, like tomato juice, also provide more nutrients per penny than many other vegetables. They can help people meet nutrition needs in a low-cost way. Since many Americans struggle with food insecurity, finding affordable solutions to filling nutrition gaps is key.

How to Eat the Right Amount

While the current data suggests that eating fruits and vegetables beyond five servings a day offers no additional protection against death, Oswalt stresses that eating more may offer other benefits.

"Including fruits and vegetables are extremely beneficial in decreasing overall inflammation and oxidation in our body and in the improvement of the health of our gut microbiome, all leading to improved overall health and wellness," she says.

Amidor suggests that people embrace the concept of “conscious consumption,” which can be defined as “the act of having acute awareness about what we are purchasing and eating.”

“You want to consciously create habits that can be easily repeated,” Amidor adds. She shares three ways to do so.

Make It Easy

Start by finding what works for you. Stick to your easiest, favorite, and most accessible options, and find ways to add one more serving of fruits and vegetables each day.

Have a Plan

Map your day and week with snacks and meals that include all forms of fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, dried, 100% juice) as the star of every meal and snack. Build your meal with fruits and vegetables making up at least half the plate, and pair with other nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, low-fat dairy, and/or lean protein.

Fill your grocery store cart with fresh veggies for dinner tonight and frozen or canned for the days ahead. Keep juice and dried fruits on hand for easy snacks and recipes.

Repeat to Form Habits

Consistent repetition will turn consciously eating more fruits and vegetables into an unconscious or automatic behavior and, ultimately, a healthy habit. Add one cup of berries into a morning smoothie, a handful of vegetables as a daily mid-morning snack, or a veggie-filled salad to start each lunch or dinner. Every day gets easier with repetition.

Using carrot sticks instead of chips as a vessel for dips or enjoying fresh strawberries as a sweet and vitamin c-packed snack instead of candy are simple swaps that can truly support your overall health and well-being in a delicious and easy way.

Eating fruits and vegetables in the right quantities can have a profound impact on your overall health. And while overconsumption will likely not cause any harm, underconsumption can result in an increased risk of death along with a slew of other unsavory health outcomes.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Drewnowski A. New metrics of affordable nutrition: which vegetables provide most nutrients for least cost? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Sep;113(9):1182-7. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.03.015

  3. United States Department of Agriculture. Food security in the U.S.: key statistics & graphics. Updated September 9, 2020.