Of course, there’s more to it than that, but studies have consistently shown that fruits and vegetables are an important component of a healthy lifestyle. The latest is a large study from Sweden that found that eating fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is linked with a higher chance of dying early.
The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, lends new credibility to the five-a-day recommendation. The analysis was based on data collected from more than 71,000 Swedes, aged 45 to 83, who were followed for 13 years. At the beginning of the study, participants responded to a dietary questionnaire and reported how often they ate fruit and vegetables. After 13 years of follow-up, 11,439 participants had died.
The researchers found that participants who reported that they ate no fruit or vegetables were 53 percent more likely to die during the follow-up period than those who consumed five servings. In fact, people who said they never ate fruit and vegetables died an average of three years sooner than those who ate plenty of fruits and veggies.
When fruit and vegetable consumption were analyzed separately, the researchers found that people who ate at least one serving of fruit per day lived 19 months longer than those who never ate fruit and people who ate at least three servings of vegetables per day lived 32 months longer than those who never ate vegetables.
Even after adjusting for other factors such as smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption, and bodyweight, the overall results did not change. Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption appeared to be associated with a shorter lifespan.
Five servings appeared to be the magic number. People who ate more than five servings of fruits and vegetables did not have a survival improvement over those who stuck to the recommended five.
This is one of the largest studies to evaluate fruit and vegetable consumption in relationship to lifespan. The study doesn’t prove without a doubt that fruit and vegetable consumption will lengthen lifespan—but it lends heavy credence to the five-a-day recommendation.
The bottom line: eating fruits and vegetables has been linked with a variety of benefits and now is associated with a longer lifespan. It’s one of those things that can’t hurt and might help.
Bellavia A, Larsson SC, Bottai M, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause mortality: a dose-response analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013; 98(2): 454-459.