The origin of the recommendation.
In the early 2000s, with cancer and cardiovascular disease on the rise, public health organizations tried to reverse the trend by promoting healthy eating. Evidence was already accumulating that fruits and vegetables reduced the risk of developing certain diseases.
Since 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming 400 g of fruits and vegetables per day. By dividing it we arrive at five portions of 80 grams: a way to simplify the message and retain it more easily.
But the WHO had not invented anything. From 1988 to 1991, California conducted the “Five a Day…for Better Health!” to increase Americans’ consumption of fruits and vegetables and improve their health. In the years that followed, nearly every state in the United States adopted this program.
5 is good, 10 is better?
However, knowing that the recommendation is usually between 5 and 10 servings, there is room for interpretation. Is there an optimal amount?
In 2014, Chinese and American researchers analyzed 16 studies with more than 800,000 participants. Overall, each additional serving of fruit or vegetables reduced all-cause mortality by 5%. The same observation applies to cardiovascular diseases. For example, with 2 daily servings, the reduction was 10% and reached 25% with 5 servings. The researchers noted that the decline seemed to peak at 5 servings.
However, an international study muddied the waters in 2017. Based on the analysis of 95 studies spread over several decades, its conclusion was that 800 grams of fruits and vegetables, or 10 servings per day, would be preferable. The meta-analysis estimated that 7.8 million deaths could have been prevented worldwide each year if this recommendation had been followed. By doubling their consumption from 5 to 10 servings, a person would reduce the risk of developing certain diseases by an average of 31%, which only represents a 6% gain compared to 5 servings.
An article published in the magazine Traffic by the American Heart Foundation last year, swung the pendulum back to 5: benefits would be negligible above 5 servings a day. Specifically, the greatest benefit would be achieved with 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables.
It should be remembered that only 30% of Canadians and 10% of Americans manage to follow this recommendation. Increasing it to 10 servings would risk putting some off, even more so if it turns out the gains aren’t huge.
Some fruits and vegetables are better than others. Canned fruits in particular should be avoided as they have been associated with an increased risk of mortality, possibly due to the sugar they contain. Therefore, fresh fruits and vegetables are preferred, whether raw or cooked. Juice should be excluded from these daily servings, due to the added sugar it contains.
And there is one last important nuance to add to all these studies: in general, those who consume more fruits and vegetables tend to be those who have better lifestyle habits. They are more active, they don’t smoke, and they generally have healthier food on their plate. Therefore, it is difficult to attribute the reduction in disease risk solely to broccoli, carrots, and citrus.
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