Their study of more than 65,000 people revealed that those who ate the most fruit and vegetables were the least likely to die.
Seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day cut the risk of death by 42%, while five portions lowered the risk by 29%. Seven helpings reduced the risk of death from heart disease by 31% and from cancer by 25%. One portion was classified as an 80g serving.
Lead investigator Dr Oyinlola Oyebode told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a clear message, the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the better your health. The group that ate seven portions of fruit and vegetables had the lowest incidence of mortality, as measured by cancer, heart attack and stroke.”
‘Vegetables had a greater benefit’
Vegetables improved health the most, said Oyebode. “Vegetables had a greater benefit but fruit also gave a significant benefit to health.” It was the micronutrients and fibre content of the vegetables that delivered the health benefit, she added. The antioxidants they contain help the body guard against disease by helping to repair cells.
The researchers reached their conclusions after studying National Health Service data, collected from questionnaires and nurse visits.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said the research showed eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day could reduce the risk of dying at any age.
‘Good for our heart health’
BHF senior dietitian Victoria Taylor said: “This is another reminder that that eating fruit and vegetables is good for our heart health and an important part of a balanced diet.
“Recommendations on fruit and vegetables vary from country to country and there is always debate about what the optimum amount should be. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that on average, we are still struggling to meet our existing target of five-a-day here in the UK.”
Taylor added that those who ate fewer than five portions a day should keep trying to eat more. “This study showed there were health benefits for every extra portion of fruit and veg people ate.”
Health officials pointed out that many Britons struggled to eat five potions of fruit and vegetables a day.
The NHS Choices website said: “Five-a-day is based on advice from the World Health Organization, which recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and obesity.”
Meanwhile, the Australian government encourages its citizens to eat two portions of fruit and five helpings of vegetables.
Five NHS reasons to eat five portions of fruit and veg
• Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium.
• They’re an excellent source of dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems. A diet high in fibre can also reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
• They can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
• Fruit and vegetables contribute to a healthy and balanced diet.
• Fruit and vegetables taste delicious and there’s so much variety to choose from.