01st March 2017

Make the leap from five-a-day

to ten-a-day to improve your health

Just when we were getting the hang of five portions of fruit or vegetables a day it was claimed last week, by scientists from Imperial College London, that eating up to ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day may prevent 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide. 

The study, a meta-analysis of all available research found on PubMed and Embase databases from their inception (1966 and 1947, respectively) included up to 2 million people, and assessed up to 43,000 cases of heart disease, 47,000 cases of stroke, 81,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, 112,000 cancer cases, and 94,000 deaths. 

In the article published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the authors estimated that approximately 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide could be potentially prevented every year if people ate 10 portions, or 800g, of fruit and vegetables a day. This level of consumption was associated with a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in dying prematurely. However, this risk was calculated in comparison to not eating any fruit and vegetables, so if you’re already getting the recommended five-a-day, it’s not as bad as it may sound. A fruit and vegetable intake above five-a-day does show major benefit in reducing the chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and early death. 

Specifically, lower risks of cancer were linked to eating: 

• Green vegetables (e.g., spinach)

• Yellow vegetables (e.g., peppers)

• Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cauliflower) 

And lower risks of heart disease and strokes were linked to eating: 

• Apples

• Pears

• Citrus fruits

• Salads

• Green leafy vegetables

• Cruciferous vegetables 

Vegetarians and vegans will no doubt find it relatively easy to eat 10 portions, but it is a daunting prospect for those of us who survive on meat, carbs, and cheese. Recommendations for those who want to make more of an effort in this direction include introducing more meat-free days, adding a mix of vegetables to your usual meals (stir-fries and stews are great for packing those vegetables in), and snacking on fruit or enjoying smoothies as an alternative to the ubiquitous afternoon biscuit. Fans of beans on toast will be also pleased to learn that pulses count; all kinds of beans from kidney to cannellini as well as lentils can help you reach 800g. 

The current UK guidelines recommend at least five portions or 400g per day. However fewer than one in three UK adults are thought to meet this target.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: "The five-a-day target is the foundation of a healthy balanced diet and is an achievable way to help prevent a number of diseases.

"Whilst consuming more than five portions of fruit and vegetables a day may be desirable... adding pressure to consume more fruit and vegetables creates an unrealistic expectation.”

The overall message seems to be that if you can manage it, ten portions of fruit or vegetables a day is the gold standard, but any steps you can take towards this ideal will certainly be beneficial. 



International Journal of Epidemiology original article https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/3039477