Fruit and Vegetables - Why and How Much?

One of the most basic nutrition messages we hear, time and time again, is that a healthy diet will include an adequate amount of fruit and vegetables. It will prevent us from becoming sick and will even according to some give our skin a healthy glow. Guidelines across the globe vary in relation to fruit and vegetable intake. However some common themes can be noted as highlighted in the table below.

Source
The Guideline
USDA
4 Servings of vegetables
3 Servings of fruit
FDA
2 ½ Cups of vegetables
2 Cups of fruit
Eurodiet 2000
> 400g/day
Australia “2&5 Campaign”
5 Servings of vegetables
2 Servings of fruit
WHO/FAO
400-500g/day
WCRF
5 Servings/day
FSAI
5 Servings/day
FSA
5 Servings/day

USDA: US department of Agriculture
FDA: Food and Drug Administration.
WHO/FAO: World Health Organisation/Food and Agriculture Organisation.
WCRF: World Cancer research Fund.
FSAI: Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
FSA: Food Standards Agency, UK.

Nutrients in Fruit & Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are an important source of dietary fibre. Their consumption helps people feel fuller for longer and may help to reduce excess energy intake. Fruit and vegetables are great replacements for energy dense foods such as bread and sweet snacks, which are significantly increasing peoples weight and BMI.

Fruit and vegetables are low in fat, they contain pectin and other fibres, flavonoids and other antioxidants, folate and other important vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants are substances that protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation which can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, stroke and obesity (US National Institutes of Health). Natural antioxidants include carotenoids (vitamin A), vitamin E, vitamin C, flavonoids, peptides, conjugated linoleic acid and co-enzyme Q10, all of which are found in fruits and vegetables.

Benefits of Fruit & Vegetables

Several studies have linked the consumption of fruits and vegetables to a reduced risk of cancer. Higher fruit intake in childhood has also been related to lower adult cancer risk. Vitamin C is an antioxidant vitamin (Granados-Principal, S. et al., 2010). It has been shown in various studies to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. It also inhibits cancerogenesis, which is the loss of cellular differentiation that causes cancer. The consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of lung, prostate, bladder, oesophagus and stomach cancers.

Consumption of fruit and vegetables have been found to have an inverse association with the risk of diabetes. A recent study by J. Montonen et al (2005) found that an increase of 1.15 servings a day was associated with a 14% decrease in incidence of type 2 diabetes (Dillard, C. J. and German, J. B., 2000).

High levels of cholesterol in the blood increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Consumption of fruit and vegetables reduces LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) hence decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Dietary fibre and potassium found in fruit and vegetables have also shown to reduce blood pressure levels (Oude Griep, L.M. et al., 2011).

Fruit portions

Small-sized fruit: One portion is two or more small fruit, for example two plums, two kiwi fruit, three apricots, seven strawberries or 14 cherries.

Medium-sized fruit: One portion is one piece of fruit, such as one apple, banana, pear, orange,

Large fruit: One portion is half a grapefruit, one slice of papaya, one slice of melon (5cm slice), one large slice of pineapple or two slices of mango (5cm slices).

Dried fruit: One portion is around 30g, ~ one heaped tablespoon of raisins, currants or sultanas, one tablespoon of mixed fruit, two figs, three prunes or one handful of dried banana chips (NHS).

Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with lower risks for numerous chronic diseases. They are low energy density foods, which are rich in nutrients and low in fat, contributing to good health and delaying hunger.There are various different guidelines recommended by experts worldwide but they all generally equate to 500g/d of fruit and vegetables. Many people are not reaching this intake. It is important to make a conscious effort to reach this recommendation on a daily basis. Even though fruit juices do contribute toward your daily consumption, whole fruit is lower in energy density and more effective in delaying hunger than fruit juices.

References

  • US National Institutes of Health.
  • Granados-Principal, S. et al., 2010. New advances in molecular mechanisms and the prevention of adriamycin toxicity by antioxidant nutrients. Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, 48(6), pp.1425-38.
  • Dillard, C. J. and German, J. B. (2000) Phytochemicals: nutraceuticals and human health. J Sci Food Agr, 80: 1744-1756.
  • Oude Griep, L.M. et al., 2011. Raw and processed fruit and vegetable consumption and 10-year stroke incidence in a population-based cohort study in the Netherlands. European journal of clinical nutrition, 65(7), pp.791-9.
Written by Creme Global on March 29 2012

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