Eating more fruit and veg aids longer living

Feeling peachy: ‘Vertumnus’ by Arcimboldo certainly favours plenty of fruit and vegetables.

New research reveals that those who eat ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day are more likely to live longer. Some want the five-a-day guideline doubled. But is this asking too much?

‘Is carrot cake one of my five-a-day?’ asks a hopeful post on an online health forum. Many Britons similarly try to push the rules as they struggle to reach the WHO and government recommended intake of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. One estimate suggests that only 30% regularly make it, and sadly, carrot cake does not count.

Yet a new study from University College London suggests even this bar is not high enough and we should instead be aiming for seven, if not ten, portions a day, mostly in the form of vegetables.

It looked at the eating habits of 65,000 people over eight years and found that those who eat more than seven fruit and vegetable portions a day were 42% less likely to die early from any cause. Data also suggested that this group had a 25% lower risk from cancer, and were almost a third less likely to suffer from heart disease or a stroke.

The researchers caution that other factors might have influenced their results, such as some people leading less stressful lives and taking greater care to stay in shape, but doctors are still calling for the UK to update its message from five to ten-a-day.

However, some families may struggle to afford fresh fruit and vegetables, or may not be in the habit of buying them. And being healthy is becoming harder that it once seemed. Although many decide to boost their vitamin intake by drinking smoothies, a study last year found that four out of five of those available contain more sugar than a can of cola.

Some psychologists say our concern with health is already becoming a problem and we would do better to just relax. Others are simply fed up of nutrition scandals that are contradicted every few months by new studies. In the 1990s, the media fretted about the danger of eating too many eggs, although this myth has now been laid to rest. And despite worries about saturated fats, experts now say fructose is a much bigger concern. So how seriously should we take this new study?

A pinch of salt

Some say we cannot ignore its findings and the government should push people towards achieving healthier lives with a revised recommendation of ten fruit and veg a day. Doctors add that our current guidelines might provide ‘false reassurance’ and ‘risk complacency’ from those already reaching five-a-day. Australia already has a ‘two fruits + five veg’ campaign – it is time the UK caught up.

Others, including one Cambridge expert, say that while there is lots of evidence supporting five-a-day, we should not read so much into only one study. They argue that health guidelines are constantly being revised, and so long as a diet is balanced, there is no need to worry. Life is too short to be concerned about guidelines.

You Decide

  1. Should the government change its recommendation to ten portions of fruit and vegetables every day?
  2. ‘The UK will simply never eat healthily enough to reach ten-a-day.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In small groups, design a poster encouraging people to eat more healthily.
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an Expert’, research other nutritional studies that have affected the way we eat. List three examples of what advice was given and find out if that advice has now changed.

Some People Say...

“Life’s too short to worry about what we eat.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m OK. Why should I watch what I eat?
Everyone should. One in three children and two in three adults are now overweight, mainly because they consume too much sugar rather than too much fat. Sugar can be in foods that would not typically be associated with it, such as baked beans, chicken nuggets and white bread.
But isn’t health advice always being overturned?
Yes, often it is. But while the popular media tends to treat ‘science’ as if it were one giant organisation, there are, in fact, thousands of experiments going on around the world at any one time and the results often contradict each other. Some studies, for example, say that vitamin tablets have no health benefits. However, it seems a safe and common sense bet that eating more vegetables is a very good idea.

Word Watch

Who
The World Health Organisation, the public health department of the United Nations. It works with governments all over the world to advise on health issues and assist in the fight against diseases and malnutrition.
Cause
The study found that those who ate five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 36% reduced risk of early death, those who ate three to five portions 29% less, and those who ate one to three a day had a 14% reduced risk.
Rest
The Japanese, who have very low levels of heart disease and cholesterol compared with people from other developed countries, manage to get through an average of 328 eggs per person per year.
Fructose
This fruit sugar directly contributes to heart disease and diabetes and is linked with dementia and cancer. It is found in processed food and drinks because it is sweeter and cheaper than other kinds of sugar. Most people do not realise it is even in their food.

Subjects

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