What are the current healthy eating guidelines for fruits and vegetables?
The 2015-2020 USDA recommendations for an average 2,000 calorie diet suggest that we eat 2 cups of fruit and 2-1/2 cups of vegetables daily.
Most experts have suggested eating between 5 and 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. According to the healthy eating guidelines issued by the USDA, one serving of vegetables is 1 cup of leafy green vegetables or ½ cup of raw or cooked vegetables. An apple, pear, banana or orange, counts as a single fruit serving. For chopped fruit, a serving size is ½ cup raw or cooked.
New Research Could Change Healthy Eating Guidelines
A large meta-analysis and systematic review was recently conducted to analyze all the studies on the relationship between eating fruits and vegetables and disease prevention. The entire study is available in the February 2017 edition of the International Journal of Epidemiology.
The study results found that 10 servings per day of fruits and vegetables is the best amount to prevent disease. But, less is good too and eating even a little bit of produce is better than none.
This new analysis reviewed 95 studies that looked at the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of various diseases. It analyzed the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as cancer. It also reviewed mortality data.
Healthy Eating Guidelines: New Study Recommendations
The study found that for every 2½-serving increase a day, there was a steady reduction in all of these conditions. For cardiovascular disease and premature death, the maximum benefit came from eating 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables per day. The optimal intake to prevent cancer is 7½ servings a day. Overall, an intake of 10 servings a day was associated with a one-third reduction in all-cause mortality, compared to none.
Healthy Eating Guidelines: Some is Better Than None
There is good news for people who don’t like to eat fruits and vegetables. The biggest reduction in disease and death risk comes when you go from no fruits and veggies to eating just a few servings a day. After that, additional servings provide smaller additional benefits. The serving sizes used in this study were quite small, averaging about 3 ounces. A medium-size piece of fruit or a cup of cooked vegetables counted as 2 servings, by most definitions. A meal-size salad alone may count as 4 servings or more.
The British researchers estimated that if everyone worldwide ate 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables that would prevent 4 million deaths a year from cardiovascular disease. It would also avoid 660,000 cancer deaths and almost 8 million deaths from all causes per year. If people regularly eat even 6 servings, 5 million fewer premature deaths would occur each year.
We are not exactly sure how this intake keeps us healthy and prolongs our lives. We know that fruits and vegetables contain a wide array of nutrients, including Vitamin C and potassium. They are also rich in and phytochemicals, known as flavonoids and carotenoids which keep us healthy. Eating fruits and vegetables also provides a healthy dose of fiber.
All of those factors “are likely to act synergistically through several biological mechanisms to reduce risk of chronic diseases and premature mortality.” It is also likely that people who eat lots of produce eat less unhealthy foods. Another possibility is that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables do other healthy things such as exercising, not smoking, and keeping their weight under control.
Click here to read the entire study about healthy eating guidelines for fruits and vegetables.