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Current dietary guidelines for people living in the United States recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily as part of a healthy eating pattern. Despite these recommendations, evidence indicates that most people consume far less. Findings from a recent study indicate that eating two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily reduces the risk of premature death.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. They also contain phytochemicals – a broad class of bioactive dietary compounds that exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.

The authors of the study drew on data gathered from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses' Health Study, two ongoing prospective epidemiological studies, spanning more than 30 years. More than 108,000 men and women enrolled in the studies completed food frequency questionnaires at the beginning of the study and every two to four years thereafter. The authors also conducted a meta-analysis of findings from these two studies plus 24 others, comprising more than two million people.

They found that people who ate roughly five servings of fruit and vegetables per day (two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables) were 13 percent less likely to die a premature death from all causes during the 30-year follow-up, compared to those who ate only two servings total fruits and vegetables per day. When the authors of the study looked at specific causes of death, they found that those who ate five servings of fruits and vegetables per day were 12 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke; 10 percent less likely to die from cancer; and 35 percent less likely to die from respiratory illness, even after ruling out other risk factors. Interestingly, eating more than the recommended five servings did not further reduce risk.

The greatest benefits were seen when intake included leafy greens and items rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, berries, and carrots. Fruit juices and starchy vegetables such as peas, corn, and potatoes conferred little benefit.

These findings support current dietary recommendations to increase intake of fruits and vegetables. For a quick and tasty way to get your five-a-day, try this smoothie recipe from Dr. Rhonda Patrick.

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