Aiming at a Balanced Diet

British researchers now recommend seven servings of fruit a day to stay healthy

Jonathan Sharp

Aiming at a Balanced Diet

For a healthy and balanced diet and to stave off death longer, eating five portions of fruit and vegetables per day are not enough, says new research from Britain that has aroused a flurry of debate globally.
Seven daily servings – and even up to 10 – are recommended by researchers at University College London compared with the five-a-day target set by Britain’s National Health Service since 2002. Looking at data gathered from 65,226 adults between 2001 and 2013, the researchers found that people who ate seven or more portions daily had a 42 percent reduced risk of death overall compared with those who managed just one.
The risk of death from cancer was reduced by 25 percent and from heart disease by 31 percent. Vegetables have higher health benefits than fruit. People who ate between five and seven portions a day had a 36 percent reduced risk of death. Those who ate three to five portions had a 29 percent decreased risk and those who ate one to three helpings had a 14 percent reduced risk.
“We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” says UCL’s Dr Oyinlola Oyebode, lead author of the research.
“The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a real difference. If you’re happy to snack on carrots or other vegetables, then that is a great choice, but if you fancy something sweeter, a banana or any fruit will also do you good.” However canned and frozen fruit increase the risk of dying by 17 percent, and fruit juice was found to have no significant benefit.
Sceptics have said the research’s recommendations are unrealistic, especially so in the UK where only about 30 percent of people say they manage even the current target of five portions daily. Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, said setting such a high consumption goal might be counterproductive, putting unhealthy eaters off even trying to improve their diet. She also says the research results may have been skewed by the fact that people who eat more fruit and vegetables tend to be wealthier and have healthier lifestyles in other ways.
Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, commented: “To implement a seven-a-day message would be really challenging for many in society and would require governmental support such as subsidising the cost of fruit and vegetables, perhaps by taxing sugar-rich foods.” But Oyebode says there are means of promoting increased consumption of fruit and vegetables other than by making recommendations. Retailers should be encouraged to display cheaper products more prominently, and school meals should be better regulated to ensure that children eat healthily.
The UCL research lends support to the Australian government’s advice of “two plus five” a day, encouraging people to eat two helpings of fruit and five of vegetables. In the United States, the recommendation is that about half the food on your plate should be fruit and vegetables.
Dr Alison Tedstone of the British government’s Public Health England said it seemed premature to raise the recommended fruit and vegetable intake. People tended to understand the five-a-day advice. “I think we should keep it simple and stay as we are.”
However Oyebode concluded: “My advice would be however much [fruit and vegetables] you are eating now, eat more.” The UCL study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


Aiming at a Balanced Diet

For a healthy and balanced diet and to stave off death longer, eating five portions of fruit and vegetables


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