While few people claim that fresh fruit and vegetables are unhealthy, a recent study shows that fresh produce might carry long-term health benefits in addition to its short-term nutritional value.
Earlier this month, researchers at the University of Oxford and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences published a report in the New England Journal of Medicine that shows people who consume fresh fruit on most days of the week are at a lower risk of stroke and heart attack than people who rarely eat fresh fruit. This study was based on data from 500,000 adults across China.
“The association between fruit consumption and cardiovascular risk seems to be stronger in China. Fruit in China is almost exclusively consumed raw, whereas much of the fruit in high-income countries is processed,” Huaidong Du, an author of the study, said.
This was not the first experiment to establish a link between the consumption of fresh produce and long-term health improvements.
A 2014 study in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that eating five daily portions of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of death from any cause. The researchers discovered that this trend was limited to around five servings of fresh fruit and vegetables per day.
Another study published in the same journal found similar results, with the consumption of fresh vegetables providing the strongest protective effect. Eating salad was found to have a significantly higher effect on subjects’ health than the consumption of fresh fruit, but the effect of consuming fruit was still found to be significant.
“We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering. Vegetables have a larger effect than fruit, but fruit still makes a big difference,” Oyinlola Oyebody, lead author of the study, said.
This study did not find any evidence of significant benefits from drinking fruit juice, with frozen and canned fruit actually increasing the risk of death.
“Most canned fruit contains high sugar levels and cheaper varieties are packed in syrup rather than fruit juice,” Oyebody said.
These studies point to the importance of eating more fresh produce, something that Michael Pollan, nutrition journalist and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley, has long been advocating for.
Pollan outlines three tips to healthier eating. The first of Pollan’s rules is to eat food. At first, one may think this rule is simple and clear to everyone, but what Pollan means specifically is to eat “real” food. Real food refers to food that is unprocessed and doesn’t come from a factory. In fact, it is often difficult to find food that passes this “unprocessed” test.
Pollan’s second rule is to make sure you don’t eat too much. Pollan noted in his study that we are programmed to eat as much as we can when food is plentiful because we don’t know when our next meal will be available. As intelligent humans, we have mostly overcome this primal behavior; however, it can sneak back from time to time. Pollan recommends that we become more mindful of what we are eating and to include as many healthy choices as possible.
This way, when we overeat, at least we are eating healthy, nutritious food.
Pollan’s last rule is that we must eat mostly plants. This is commonly regarded as the most difficult of the three rules.
Pollan doesn’t recommend that we bury our faces is a bowl of lettuce until it’s empty — what he is trying to get across to us is that we can benefit from eating more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. According to Pollan, a plant-based diet is the best diet because plant foods are the richest sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, which contain disease-fighting properties.