Fact File: The Importance of Fruit & Veg for Health

by David Egan on June 8, 2011

Fruit vegetables health

Fruit & veg are essential for health – aim for 9 portions per day!

It is vitally important that we encourage our children to eat more fruit and vegetables – eating fruit & veg helps prevent serious illness in later life.

Experts agree that eating more fruit and veg helps prevent illnesses like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers.

The World Health organisation reckon that 2.7 million lives could be saved each year simply by eating more fruit & veg!

How Much Fruit & Veg?

The amount of fruit and veg that you and your family consume is important. Most people should aim for at least 9 servings of fruit and veg per day, and potatoes don’t count. Most children do not consume enough fruit and vegetables.

A “serving” or a “portion” is roughly a handful – so for a small child, a single portion would be a piece of fruit or veg that fit into their hand. Obviously, as children grow and get bigger, their portion size will also increase.

What’s the Magic Ingredient in Fruit & Veg?

Scientists aren’t quite sure of the answer to this one. The only thing we can say conclusively is that people who eat plenty of fruit and veggies get less nasty illnesses, and taking vitamin pills does not have the same effect.

Phytochemicals (pronounced “fight”-o-chemicals) are substances found in fruit and vegetables that have a beneficial effect on health

Some fruit & veg phytochemicals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Antioxidants help prevent damaging reactions within the human body and have a beneficial effect upon health. By reducing free-radical damage and inflammation, phytochemicals may promote heart health, and reduce the risk of neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Many studies also show that some plant phytochemicals they slow or prevent the growth of some cancer cells. Scientists recently found that a substance called indole-3-carbinol, which slows down the growth of breast cancer cells. This substance is found in vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage.

Healthy child appleFruit, Vegetables and Cancer

The US National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organisation link the lack of fruit/vegetable intake with an increased risk for cancer.

A report by the World Cancer Research Fund recommends the regular consumption of vegetables like lettuce, leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, onions and fruits. These were found to probably protect against several types of cancers, including:

  • Cancers of the mouth, throat & voice box
  • Oesophageal cancer
  • Stomach cancer

According to a recent review on fruit, vegetables and cancer carried out by the World Health Organisation, eating more fruit probably lowers the risk of cancers of the oesophagus, stomach and lung, and possibly reduces the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, colon-rectum, larynx, kidney, and bladder.

Increasing consumption of vegetables probably lowers the risk of cancers of the oesophagus and colon-rectum and possibly reduces the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, stomach, larynx, lung, ovary and kidney.

What Fruits and Veggies in Particular?

We should increase our general fruit and vegetable consumption, rather than focusing on a specific type of fruit/veg. Health authorities do not recommend specific “super” foods, since the health benefits of fruit and vegetables almost certainly come from consuming a wide range of these foods.

All fruits and vegetables are likely to have a beneficial effect on health, but specific effects are beginning to be identified. For example, studies have suggested particular benefits from consuming the following:

  • Apples: lower cholesterol and have been linked to reduced risk of some cancers, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes.
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons etc): contain compounds that inhibit cancer cells and may be protective against heart disease.
  • Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale and other cruciferous vegetables: studies suggest that the consumption of these vegetables protects against breast and other cancers.
  • Tomatoes and cooked tomato products: may be protective against prostate cancer.

This is not an exhaustive list – many different fruits and vegetables are being examined by researchers across the world to determine their specific effects, and new benefits to fruit and veg consumption are being uncovered all the time.

Fruit, Vegetables and Heart Disease

There is very strong evidence to suggest that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Studies show that the more fruit & veg you consume, the better for your heart. One of the largest studies in this area involved almost 110,000 people – The Harvard Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. This research showed that individuals consuming 8 or more portions of fruit or veg per day were 30% less likely to get a heart attack or stroke compared with those consuming little fruit or veg.

Healthy apples smoothieMore Reasons to Eat More Fruit & Veg

  • Eating tomatoes and cooked tomato foods may help prevent prostate cancer
  • Apples have a cholesterol lowering effect – good for your heart
  • Many fruits and vegetables contain substances that slow the growth of cancer cells – these include oranges, apples, blueberries, onions, cabbages and broccoli

Hopefully we’ve convinced you to include more fruit and vegetables in your diet! Why not check out:

Related Posts:

Previous post:

Next post: