Friday 4th April 2014

A number of news reports this week have suggested that the current recommendation of five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables a day is not enough for health and that we should be aiming for 7 portions or more. This study looked at participants of the Health Survey for England and used information on fruit and vegetable intake and mortality statistics on incidence of disease.

They found that there appeared to be a direct association between consumption of fruit and vegetables and reduction in risk of all-cause mortality and death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The health benefit seemed to increase the more fruit and vegetables were eaten and the greatest benefits were seen at high levels of consumption of 7 portions a day or more. They also found that vegetables seemed to be more beneficial than fruit.

These results have lead to speculation that the 5 A DAY recommendation is too low and should be increased to 7 portions or more per day.

However, the nature of this study means that caution is needed in interpreting the results. Firstly, the current 5 A DAY advice is based on a large number of studies, which were analysed by the World Health Organisation and provided the basis of the 5 A DAY recommendation that is used around the world. Scientifically it would not be sound to make sweeping changes to such a recommendation based only on one study. There are a number of other studies that have looked at potential benefits of higher levels of fruit and vegetable intake, but these have generally not shown the added benefit.

In terms of the study itself, it took snapshots of diet and other lifestyle measures and followed participants to see whether they were affected by disease. This kind of study gives an indication of potential associations between diet and health but cannot show cause and effect as it doesn't control for the many other factors that could have influenced people's risk of disease.

Overall, although this research highlights the health benefits of eating fruit and vegetables, it doesn't provide a basis for changing the current recommendation of 5 A DAY. Currently, only a third of adults meet the 5 A DAY recommendation and it's important to help consumers increase their intake and not to provide unrealistic targets if these are not based on sound science. The finding that vegetables seemed to be more beneficial is interesting and it is worth noting that vegetables do provide a number of nutrients, minerals in particular, that are not found in fruit. This underlines the need for variety in the fruit and vegetables we consume to get the most benefit from our 5 A DAY.