Study: Fruits and Vegetables Are More Important to Your Health Than You Think

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We’ve long known that fruit and vegetables are good for us in many ways, and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that they constitute half of what’s on our plates at every meal.

A new meta-analysis of almost 100 previous studies goes further, presenting compelling evidence that consuming these foods not only helps ward off many illnesses but can also improve our cognitive abilities, lengthen our lives, and even make us happier.

According to nutrition scientist and professor Taylor Wallace, lead author of the study, the findings confirm that “Increasing fruit and vegetable intake not only helps to ward off chronic disease, but also extends both life expectancy and quality.”

The study itself states that fruits and vegetables “have potential health-promoting effects beyond providing basic nutrition needs in humans, including…decreases in years lost due to premature mortality and years lived with disability/morbidity.”

Commissioned by the non-profit Produce for Better Health Foundation and published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the study recommends eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, whether fresh, frozen, canned, dried, or even in the form of juice (if it’s 100% from the source material, without added water or other fillers). Most beneficial are cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, etc.), dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and dark-colored berries. Luckily, one of the most beneficial foods is the vegetable Americans prefer most. According to a recent survey, this is America’s favorite vegetable.

Regular fruit and vegetable consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the number-one killer of Americans, the study reiterates. Other benefits include possible protection from certain forms of cancer; improved eye and bone health; support of beneficial gut bacteria, integral to overall health; and an association with overall life satisfaction and happiness as well as improved mental health.

Research shows that nine out of ten Americans do not currently eat the recommended quantity of fruit and vegetables. The Produce for Better Health Foundation’s Have a Plant initiative was launched to encourage consumption, offering recipes, meal-planning strategies, and information of seasonal availability of fresh produce.

Only about 78% of adults in America eat vegetables once a day, and only 60% report eating fruit daily. This is even lower in some areas of the country. Here are the states with the best and worst diets.