Live longer with 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
Posted: MAR 17, 2022
Healthy eating is a surefire way to improve your overall well-being. With the right mix of foods, you can get the nutrients you need, lower your risk of medical issues, and even improve your mood. One of the keys to reaching a healthy balance is to include enough fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Fruits and vegetables help you live longer
According to a recent study published in Circulation, increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat can improve your health and lower your risk of serious medical conditions.1 The study looked at data to see how different amounts of produce affect general health. It also focused on the risk of death from cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease.
Researchers compared people who ate 5 servings of fruit and vegetables each day with people who only ate 2 servings a day. Those who stuck to 5 daily servings generally had:2
- A 13% lower risk of death from any cause
- A 12% lower risk from heart disease and stroke
- A 10% lower risk from cancer
- A 35% lower risk from respiratory disease
These numbers are impressive. The only catch? Making sure to get those 5 servings a day. But don’t worry — it’s easier than you might think.
Which fruits and vegetables are best?
The good news is that almost all fruits and vegetables are associated with the health benefits shown in the study. Some that are especially healthy include:
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower
- Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit
- Berries, including blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
And there are many more healthy options. The key is to mix things up with a variety of different produce. So instead of an apple a day, try an apple one day, and an orange or a peach the next.
Some produce is less helpful
In general, no fruit or vegetable will make you less healthy. But some seem to have fewer health benefits than others. For example, starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn aren’t associated with a lower risk of death or chronic conditions the way other vegetables are. If you do have potatoes, be picky. Choose roasted or boiled potatoes. And avoid deep-fried french fries and chips, which have a lot of unhealthy fat and salt.
The study also found that fruit juice doesn’t provide the same advantages as most non-juiced fruits. This may be because some fruit juices have a high sugar content.
How much is a serving?
For most fruits, a single serving is 3/4 cup to 1 cup. For most vegetables, a serving is 2/3 cup to 1 cup. When it comes to salad greens, it’s 1 1/3 to 2 cups.3 To optimize your health benefit, aim for 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day. Vegetables and fruits both pack a healthy punch — but veggies have a little less sugar and calories.2
So what does all this add up to? To get the recommended 2 servings of fruit per day, you’ll need 1 1/2 to 2 cups.3 That’s about the same as 1 large apple, orange, or banana. For vegetables, you’ll need 2 to 3 cups to get your 3 servings a day. If you’re making salad or sautéing spinach or kale, use 4 to 6 cups of leafy greens.
With so many convenient ways to add fruits and vegetables to your diet, these amounts won’t be hard to reach.
How to get 5 servings a day
Start small. Fruits and veggies offer many healthy snack options. Try slicing up a few servings of carrots or apples in the morning. Then you’ll have a stash to snack on throughout the day. Grapes and berries also work, and they go well with low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt. These all make a great substitute for chips or sweets. Need something to go with those carrots? Try hummus or a healthy kale dip.
And healthy produce can provide a lot more than snacks. Fruits and vegetables make great meals — especially when mixed together. Consider having at least one vegetarian dinner a week. Start with a hearty kale and roasted vegetable soup, which includes carrots, tomatoes, and butternut squash. And if you want to garnish fish or black beans and rice, boost your fruit intake with this strawberry salsa.
Keep in mind that canned and frozen produce is as nutritious as fresh produce.2 Think about keeping a supply of canned or frozen fruits and vegetables on hand. This can help make sure you always get your 5 servings — in case you run out of time to hit the supermarket on the way home.
1Dong D. Wang, MD, et al., “Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality,” Circulation, April 27, 2021.
2Cara Rosenbloom, “Which Fruits and Vegetables Don’t Count Toward Your ‘5 a Day’? New Study has Answers,” The Washington Post, March 18, 2021.
3“Recommended Servings for Adults,” Kaiser Permanente, September 8, 2021.