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Eating fruits and vegetables vital for longevity BUT exactly how much of it should one consume in a day? - Times Now

Fruits and Vegetables longevity heart health diet

Fruits and vegetables diet for long healthy life and heart health  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images

Key Highlights

  • A 30-yaer-long Harvard study has shown that eating 2 fruits and 3 vegetable servings in a day helps one live a longer, fitter life as this diet also benefits the heart health.
  • But how much fruit and how much of the vegetable should one consider as one helping?
  • Also, what fruits and vegetables will benefit the lost? Is there a list to create a menu plan from?

One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic did was bring the focus right back on good health and the importance of a fit and able body. Also, while mankind chases the dream of extreme longevity, the aspect of having a fit body cannot be done away with.

Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter writes online that as we often talk about how diets rich in fruits and vegetables are good for your health, very few people are clued into how much (quantity of fruits and veggies) do we need to average per day to reap real rewards? 

The answer that she gives for that is based on an analysis from Harvard researchers and it is: A total of five servings per day of fruits and vegetables offers the strongest health benefits.

The Harvard Study on Longevity: Godman cites the research, published online March 1, 2021, by the journal Circulation. It was not a short term study, but involving data pooled from self-reported health and diet information collected from dozens of studies from around the world. The sample size was not small either. A whopping two million people had been followed up to 30 years to collect this data.

Though practically not everyone can afford to (in terms of time, availability, price etc) have a vegetable and fruit-heavy diet, there are untold benefits from this "Saatvik" aahar or back to nature simple diet.

Godman cites that as compared with people who said they ate just two servings of fruits or vegetables each day, people who ate five servings per day had:

  1. a 13% lower risk of death from any cause
  2. a 12% lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke
  3. a 10% lower risk of death from cancer
  4. a 35% lower risk of death from respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"Fruits and vegetables are major sources of several nutrients that are strongly linked to good health, particularly the health of the heart and blood vessels: potassium, magnesium, fibre, and polyphenols (antioxidant plant compounds)," explains Dr Daniel Wang, lead author on the study and a member of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Set your own menu, plan the combo: The most effective combination of fruits and vegetables among study participants was two servings of fruits plus three servings of vegetables per day, for a total of five servings daily, states the Harvard Health Letter.

Dr Wang says leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach) and fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and beta carotene (citrus, berries, carrots) are primary sources of antioxidants that may play a role in preventing cancer and including them in your diet will bring great benefits. 

So should you be eating more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables in a day if you have the facility or access? Research says that would be such a waste. It turns out that eating more than five servings of fruits or vegetables per day didn’t seem to provide additional benefit in lowering the risk of death. Neither did eating starchy vegetables like peas, corn, or potatoes, or drinking fruit juices.

What if I miss eating this fruit+veggie diet on certain days? Godman's article says that if during any particular day you have no fruit and vegetables, that’s fine, that is not the end of your resolve to eat sensibly.

Dust yourself, get back onto the fitness bandwagon and add a little more than usual on other days to raise your average for the week. It's ultimately about how much you eat on average.

How to include fruits and vegetables in your daily meals? Make minor changes to your menu.

For breakfast, it could be a bowl of Dalia, poha, upma, or cereal with some blueberries, or perhaps eggs and sautéed tomatoes, onions, and spinach.

For lunch, you could toss up a salad with your favourite fruits and vegetables (how about chunks of banana and apple in a bowl of milk - instead of crushing the fruits to a pulp? Let the fibre stay intact, eat your fruits). Or take a bowl and make kale and spinach salad with grapefruit chunks, red peppers, carrots, and pine nuts, a cup of yoghurt with strawberries, or a smoothie with kale and mango.

What about dinner? The cucumber raita or Maharashtrian Koshimbir (Dahi and chopped cucumber+tomato+onion with a dash of seasoning) or the onion+lemon juice+carrot pieces+cucumber+tomato salad will quite you a plethora of fruits and vegetables. Or else, as the Harvard newsletter suggests, you can include a side salad or a large side of vegetables such as steamed broccoli or yellow squash and zucchini. If you haven’t had a chance to eat enough vegetables throughout the day, make your main meal a large salad with lots of colourful vegetables and some chunks of protein, such as grilled chicken or fish.

Nursing a sweet tooth?  For dessert: fresh or frozen fruit is a delicious and healthful treat, especially with a dab of frozen yoghurt. Or add some milk and a wee bit of honey. 

Now the toughest part: How to measure a serving? Fantastic, the report of the now very famous study says "Squeeze in five servings per day". We are stuck on how much, exactly, is a serving? 

Check the Harvard Newsletter list that spells out just that out for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the table below (see "Fruit and vegetable servings").

This can guide you in maintaining a change and variation when planning meals. You can choose from the list any of your favourites. Aim for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to get the best mix of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients in your personalized five-a-day plan.

Fruit and vegetable servings Fruit (and serving size)

  • Apple (1 fruit)
  • Apricots (1 fresh, 1/2 cup canned. or 5 dried)
  • Avocado (1/2 fruit or 1/2 cup)
  • Banana (1 fruit)
  • Blueberries (1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • Cantaloupe (1/4 melon)
  • Grapefruit (1/2 fruit)
  • Grapes (1/2 cup)
  • Orange (1)
  • Peaches or plums (1 fresh or 1/2 cup canned)
  • Pear (1 fruit)
  • Prunes or dried plums (6 prunes or 1/4 cup)
  • Raisins (1 ounce)
  • Strawberries (1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • Vegetable (and serving size)
  • Broccoli (1/2 cup)
  • Brussels sprouts (1/2 cup)
  • Cabbage (1/2 cup)
  • Carrot juice (2–3 ounces)
  • Carrots (1/2 cup cooked, 1/2 raw carrot, or 2–4 sticks)
  • Cauliflower (1/2 cup)
  • Celery (2–3 sticks)
  • Corn (1 ear or 1/2 cup frozen or canned)
  • Eggplant (1/2 cup)
  • Kale, mustard greens, or chard (1/2 cup)
  • Lettuce (1 cup iceberg, leaf, romaine)
  • Mixed or stir-fry vegetables (1/2 cup)
  • Onion (1 slice)
  • Peppers (3 slices green, yellow, or red)
  • Salsa, picante or taco sauce (1/4 cup)
  • Spinach (1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw)
  • Squash, dark orange (winter) (1/2 cup)
  • Summer squash or zucchini (1/2 cup)
  • String beans (1/2 cup)
  • Tomato or V-8 juice (small glass)
  • Tomatoes (2 slices)
  • Tomato sauce (1/2 cup)
  • Vegetable soup (1 cup)
  • Yams or sweet potatoes (1/2 cup)

(Source: Harvard magazine Circulation, March 14, 2021)

Bon appetit! And may you live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life along with your near and dear ones for the company.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a professional healthcare provider if you have any specific questions about any medical matter.

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