The message has been hammered in for many years: you need to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Where does this recommendation come from and why 5, they asked themselves rumor detector.
The origin of the recommendation
In the early 2000s, with cancer and cardiovascular disease on the rise, public health organizations tried to reverse the trend by promoting healthy eating. Evidence is already mounting that fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of developing certain diseases.
Since 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the daily consumption of 400 g of fruit and vegetables. By sharing it, we get five 80 gram servings: a way to simplify the message and make it easier to remember.
But the WHO had invented nothing. From 1988 to 1991, California hosted the “Five a Day…For Better Health!” to increase Americans’ fruit and vegetable consumption — and improve their health. In the years that followed, almost every state in the United States adopted this program.
5 is good, 10 is better?
However, knowing that the recommendation is often between 5 and 10 servings, there is room for interpretation. Is there an optimal amount?
In 2014, Chinese and American researchers analyzed 16 studies involving more than 800,000 participants. Overall, each additional serving of fruit or vegetables reduced all-cause mortality by 5%. The same observation applied to cardiovascular disease. For example, the reduction was 10% at 2 daily servings and reached 25% at 5 servings. The researchers noted that the decrease seemed to peak at 5 servings.
However, an international study faltered in 2017. Based on the analysis of 95 studies spanning several decades, she concluded that 800 grams of fruit and vegetables, or 10 servings per day, would be preferable. The meta-analysis estimates that 7.8 million deaths worldwide could have been prevented every year if this recommendation had been followed. By doubling consumption from 5 to 10 servings, a person would reduce their risk of developing certain diseases by an average of 31%, which is only a 6% increase compared to 5 servings.
An article published in the magazine Traffic The American Heart Foundation last year brought the pendulum back to the number 5: The benefits would be negligible above the 5 daily servings. Specifically, the greatest benefit would be obtained with 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables.
It should be remembered that barely 30% of Canadians and 10% of Americans manage to follow this recommendation. An increase to 10 servings would therefore discourage some, all the more so when the gains turn out not to be huge.
Some fruits and vegetables are better than others. Canned fruits in particular should be avoided as they may be associated with a higher risk of mortality due to the sugars they contain. Fresh fruit and vegetables are therefore preferable, whether raw or cooked. Juice should be excluded from these daily servings due to the added sugar.
And there’s one final important nuance that needs to be brought to all of these studies: Overall, those who consume the most fruits and vegetables are often the ones who have better lifestyle habits. They are more active, do not smoke and generally eat healthier food. It is therefore difficult to attribute the reduction in disease risk solely to broccoli, carrots and citrus fruits.
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