How much fruit and vegetables should you eat?

  • 20 May 2015
  • Reading time 9 mins
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How much fruit and vegetables should we eat and which are most beneficial to your health? Discoveries that the plant world provides salvestrols which ward off cancer, sirtuin activators which help burn fat, as well an antioxidants and polyphenols which reduce inflammation and disease risk has led to a whole rethink about which fruits and vegetables are best to choose.

Fruit and Vegetables

How many do we need to eat daily?

A survey of 65,226 people in the UK showed that having 7 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day is associated with a 42% reduction in risk of death. This parallels our 100% health survey findings of 55,000 people which found that having 7 or more servings of fruit a day tripled ones chances of being in optimal health, while 5 or more servings of vegetables doubled one’s chances.

Fruit Vegetable Graph

Another survey in 2014, carried out by researchers at the University College London, found that vegetables conferred a greater health benefit than fruit. While 2 or 3 servings of vegetables a day cut risk of death by 20% the same number of servings of fruit cut risk of death by 10%. Fruit juice and canned fruit conferred no benefit and even a suggestion of harm, no doubt due to the high sugar content, including syrups in canned fruit.

On the basis of all the evidence to date I stand by my recommendation, made more than a decade ago, to shoot for 7 servings a day, being 4-5 servings of vegetables and 2-3 of fruit.

How do you achieve this?

You could have a serving of fruit with breakfast, half of each main meal (2 servings) as vegetables and 2 further servings during the day, as snacks, of either fruit or vegetables. This could be half an avocado or an apple with a few nuts or seeds. Combining protein with fruit or vegetables further lowers its glycemic load.

But which fruit and veg are best?

1. Antioxidant power

If we had been having this conversation a decade ago I would have spoken about the antioxidant power of different fruit and vegetables, that is their ability to quench oxidative damage which underlies the whole ageing process, as well their GL (glycemic load) choosing fruits and vegetables with the least glucose-raising effect and the most antioxidant power. Berries, plums, apples, oranges, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, avocado and artichoke would have been top of my list on both fronts. While red grapes are high in antioxidants they are also high in high GL sugars. There exists a good index of the total antioxidant power of fruit and vegetables, measured as the ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) of a food. The chart below gives you some of the top ORAC star foods. My special report on antioxidants gives you more info on top ORAC foods.

Antioxidant Graph

2. Polyphenol power

However, in recent years, there’s been lots of research showing that a group of compounds known as ‘polyphenols’ are just as important as a plant’s antioxidant power and maybe more so. Polyphenols are rich in many ‘superfoods’ such as resveratrol in red grape skin, isoflavones in beans, curcumin in turmeric, cinnamic acid in cinnamon and anthocyandins in black elderberry and other berries, to name a few.

Polyphenols are a very broad group of compounds that are produced by plants as part of their defence system to protect the plant, for example, from infection or UV radiation. These often protect us from infection but also, in a highly intelligent way, seem to switch off disease processes and switch on healthy genetic switching that help us stay healthy and live long.

Many of the phytochemical names you will have come across, such as flavonoids, quercitin, anthocyanidins, isoflavones, to name a few, are all types of polyphenols.

For sake of ease we can lump these all together and work out a total polyphenol rating, in much the same way that I’ve previously given foods a total antioxidant rating. While not perfect this does help us to understand which foods from the vegetable kingdom pack the biggest health punch.

By seeing which foods have the most antioxidant power AND the most polyphenol power we can get a good idea of the best foods. Since quite a few polyphenols act as antioxidants there is a tendency for a food to score high in both camps, but some foods don’t. Peppermint, for example, is good for polyphenols but not so remarkable as an antioxidant. Basil is the other way round – good for antioxidants, but not great for polyphenols. Here my favourites.

Best fruit and vegetables for both antioxidants and polyphenols

Artichoke, red onion, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, olives, beetroot*, avocado*, kale*, parsley and lovage Blackcurrants, blueberries, plums, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, apples Chestnuts, pecan nuts, almonds, chia, flax Cloves, oregano, turmeric*, capers, mint, star anise, sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon Dark chocolate, red wine, coffee, peppermint (tea), black tea, green tea

*Turmeric, beetroot, kale and avocado, which is technically a fruit, do not appear in charts of polyphenols, but both do contain significant amounts, and are also high in antioxidants, hence my inclusion.

3. Skinny sirtuins

Certain plant compounds also activate ‘sirtuin’ genes, nicknamed the ‘skinny’ genes because they help you burn fat and build muscle. A body of evidence is now building for a number of potent sirtuin ......

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