Seven-a-day fruit and veg 'saves lives'

Fruit and vegetables Few of us eat the recommended five a day, let alone seven portions

Related Stories

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day is healthier than the minimum five currently recommended and would prolong lives, experts say.

A study of 65,226 men and women indicated the more fruit and vegetables people ate, the less likely they were to die - at any given age.

Seven a day cut the risk of dying from cancer and heart disease.

Start Quote

The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age”

End Quote Dr Oyinola Oyebode Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL

But the government says its "five-a-day" advice is sufficient and that many of us struggle to achieve even this.

Experts said other lifestyle factors, such as not smoking or drinking excessively, may have accounted for the drop in mortality, although the study authors said they had tried to account for this.

Five a day

  • The five-a-day message is based on advice from the World Health Organization
  • It highlights the health benefits of getting five 80g (3oz) portions of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Your five portions should include a variety of fruit and vegetables
  • Most fruits and veg count towards five a day
  • The government says it can include fresh, frozen, canned, dried or pure juices
  • Potatoes and cassava don't count because they mainly contribute starch to the diet

The University College London researchers used the Health Survey for England, which collects data from people in England each year through questionnaires and nurse visits, to look at diet and lifestyle.

They analysed data between 2001 and 2008, which provided a snapshot rather than people's continuing dietary habits.

The study looked at general mortality as well as death from cancer, heart disease and stroke, and found risk of premature death from any cause decreased as fruit and veg consumption increased.

Risk of death by any cause over the course of the study was reduced by 42% for seven or more portions of fruit and veg (up to around 10 portions a day).

Fresh vegetables had the strongest protective effect, followed by salad and then fruit.

Fruit juice conferred no benefit, while canned fruit appeared to increase the risk of death - possibly because it is stored in sugary syrup, say the researchers.

Lead investigator Dr Oyinlola Oyebode said: "The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die - at any age."

She said the size of the effect was "staggering", but added that eating a few portions a day was still better than nothing.

woman eating broccoli Fresh vegetables appeared to offer the most protection

Fruit and vegetables could have a protective effect against disease as they contained antioxidants, which repair damage to cells, she said.

Dr Oyebode added that both fruit and vegetables contained micronutrients and fibre, both of which are good for health.

Fruit and veg chart

She said a "portion" meant about 80g (3oz), meaning "one large fruit or a handful of smaller fruit or veg".

But some experts said the work was not conclusive and that other lifestyle factors may have influenced the results.

Prof Tom Sanders, at the School of Medicine, King's College London, said it was "already known" that people who said they ate lots of fruit and vegetables were health conscious, educated and better-off, which could account for the drop in risk.

"You cannot extrapolate from this kind of information to make sensible pronouncements about what people should eat."

Prof Naveed Sattar, of the University of Glasgow, said promoting a seven-a-day message would be "really challenging".

"It would require governmental support such as subsidising the cost of fruit and vegetables, perhaps by taxing sugar-rich foods, and making available high quality products to all in society," he said.

Dr Alison Tedstone, of Public Health England, said the study was "interesting" but it seemed "premature" to raise the recommended fruit and veg intake because two thirds of people were not eating five or more portions a day.

She said people "tend to understand this five-a-day message", adding: "I think we should keep it simple and stay as we are."

More on healthy eating

Fruit and vegetables

"We are working very hard to improve the availability of fruit and vegetables, as we see it as absolutely integral to somebody's health to choose those five a day," she said.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said people were still struggling to meet the existing target of at least five a day.

"While you may not be getting your five a day, there's no reason to give up and stop trying as this study showed there were health benefits for every extra portion of fruit and veg people ate," she said.

In Australia, the government's advice is "two plus five" a day - encouraging people to eat two helpings of fruit and five portions of vegetables.

How fruit and veg decreased risk of death - study found.

More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    My parents taught me "moderation in all things". That goes for what's good for you as well as what's considered bad. Too much good is bad for you. A little of what is bad does you no harm. I'll continue to use common sense in what I eat rather than listen to so-called experts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    My friends mum is 93 and she told me that they never ate fruit when she was young. Doubt her mum eats it now as she's in a care home. The difference is their food wasn't tampered with like ours is today. The pesticides and additives (even to fruit) is dreadful. That's the bit they won't tell us about. My advice is to eat everything in moderation - even the pesticides!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    The World War 2 diet forced on the British people was the best diet for many, low fat, low sugar worked well. Let's go back to that. Except of course, we cannot for personal choice is now ingrained in the British way of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    We live in a time unlike any before, in which humans have unlimited access to food; malnutrition is no longer a killer in the West. But obviously this is going to create its own problems, primarily obesity which is a time bomb for a plethora of morbidities.

    If we are to seriously manage our national health and keep health spending reasonable, we need to reassess our diet and lifestyles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    We are all going to die, but to hopefully prevent an early death we need more fruit and vegetables. Following a Mediterranean diet is probably the best, it is unfortunate that anything that is good for you is also very expensive. If we all cut out 'naughty' food then we could use the money for fruit, etc. Tinned and frozen are just as good and easily affordable, much cheaper too. An apple a day ..


Comments 5 of 8


More Health stories


Features & Analysis

BBC Future

(Caitlin McNeill)

Do we all see the same colours?

Intriguing science behind #TheDress


  • A bicycle with a Copenhagen WheelClick Watch

    The wheel giving push bikes an extra boost by turning them into smart electric hybrids

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.