5-a-day ‘not enough’
New European research finds 8-a-day may be needed to cut the risk of dying from heart disease
19th January 2011 - We’re all urged to eat 5-a-day portions of fruit and veg - but new research finds 8-a-day may be needed to cut the risk of dying from heart disease.
The diet and lifestyles of over 300,000 people across eight countries in Europe found that people who ate at least eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 22% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who ate three portions a day.
Each regular additional portion in fruit and vegetable intake was linked to a 4% lower risk of death.
One portion counted as 80 grams, such as a small banana, a medium apple or a small carrot.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the UK and around the world, accounting for around a third of deaths each year in England.
UK low in the fruit and veg league table
The average intake of fruit and veg in the various countries was five portions a day.
Spain, Greece and Italy were the leaders in fruit and veg eating. Italian men enjoyed 7.5 portions day, Spanish women 6.7 portions.
Healthy eating tailed off the further north the researchers looked in Europe.
UK men managed 4.1 portions a day, women 4.8.
We weren’t the worst though. That honour went to Swedish men and women on 3.5 and 2.9 portions a day.
The researchers think factors like cost and availability of fruit and vegetables are likely to account for differences in intake.
Data came from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart study.
Every portion counts
Lead author, Dr Francesca Crowe of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford tells us by email: “We do need to be cautious in our interpretation of these findings as participants with a higher intake of fruits and vegetables tended to be slightly healthier overall. So we are unable to say whether the association between fruits and vegetables and heart disease is causal.”
In other words, is it the fruit and veg that made people healthier, or are people who eat better also more likely to have healthier lifestyles.
Crowe says healthy eating also needs to be taken on board alongside other recommendations “such as not smoking, not having high blood pressure or high blood lipids [ cholesterol] and being in a healthy weight range”.
Results from the recent (2008/09) UK National Diet and Nutrition survey showed that only 37% of men and 35% of women were actually consuming more than five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, “so getting the population to consume more than eight servings a day will be a huge undertaking”.
While stepping up from 5-a-day to 8-a-day might be hard, Crowe says: “It may be a more manageable public health guideline to recommend that everyone increases their intake by one portion per day.
“This is a much more modest effect for an individual but if everyone could achieve this then at a population level the impact would be quite large.”