Nutrition-wise blog

Is it time to update the '5 a Day' advice?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. May 13, 2014

Governments around the world are recommending increased consumption of vegetables and fruits. One of the most familiar campaigns is the "5 a Day" program that encourages eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Unfortunately, it is estimated that in 2013 U.S. adults on average ate fruit about 1 time a day and vegetables about 1.6 times a day.

A recent study out of England reinforces the importance of eating more vegetables and fruits — and ups the ante. The study found that:

  • Seven or more servings of vegetables and fruits were linked to the lowest risk of death from all causes, and from cancer and heart disease and stroke.
  • Vegetables seemed more protective than fruits.
  • Servings of fresh and dried fruits seemed to be more protective than juices and frozen and canned fruits.  It is thought — but not confirmed — that this might be due to food processing, which often adds sugar and removes edible peels that contain valuable fiber.

What does this mean? Maybe it's time to update the "5 a Day" program.

  • Five servings of vegetables and fruits might not be enough. This study showed that benefits continue to increase up to at least seven servings of vegetables and fruits a day.
  • More emphasis should be placed on vegetables.
  • The message for fruit needs to be clarified: Whole fruits that retain the peel and aren't sweetened are preferred. Fresh and some dried fruit may also count toward the daily total, but juices and fruits that are usually peeled and sweetened (such as frozen or canned products) do not.

This study has clearly shown that increasing to seven or more servings daily of mostly vegetables and some whole fruits may decrease overall deaths and deaths from cancer, heart disease and stroke. It's time to be aware of the new targets and, more importantly, what we need to do to reach them.

I personally eat at least seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily — with an emphasis on vegetables and whole fruits.

What's keeping you from doing the same?

May 13, 2014