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Five-a-day is good, but 8-a-day is even better
by Matthew - Sunday, 13 March 2011, 11:43 AM

Five-a-day is good, but 8-a-day is even better

Several new studies have been published examining the link between fruit and veg and our health.

Fruit and vegIn the first half of 2010 a study in Europe reported that five-a-day may not be enough to significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer. Another study published this year reported that eight-a-day, rather than five, may be needed to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Whilst the headlines are sometimes confusing, the message still seems clear to us, five-a-day is good and 8-a-day is even better.

Preventing cancer

In April last year, new research from a European trial showed that five-a-day may not have a substantial effect on cancer. More than 400,000 people were involved in the respected EPIC trial from across Europe, including Britain; the results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The international team, led by researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York, concluded that only around 2.5% of cancers could be prevented by increasing intake of fruit and veg.

Dr Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, America, said: "In summary, the findings from the EPIC cohort add further evidence that a broad effort to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables will not have a major effect on cancer incidence.

"Such efforts are still worthwhile because they will reduce risks of cardiovascular disease, and a small benefit for cancer remains possible."

He said those eating five portions a day had a 30 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those eating an average of 1.5 portions a day.

Meanwhile other experts said even a modest link between fruit and vegetable consumption on cancer risk, if applied to the whole population still meant thousands of cancers could be avoided with a healthier diet.

Yinka Ebo, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “This study, the largest on diet and cancer to date, shows that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can slightly reduce your cancer risk.

“It’s still a good idea to eat your five-a-day but remember that fruits and vegetables are pieces in a much larger lifestyle jigsaw. There are many things we can do to lower our chances of developing cancer such as not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy balanced diet, being physically active and staying safe in the sun.”

Preventing cardiovascular disease (CVD)

A further study published in January this year examined the effects of fruit and veg consumption on cardiovascular disease (CVD). The diet and lifestyles of more than 300,000 people across eight countries in Europe were examined. This study revealed 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.

The newspapers immediately concluded that five-a-day is no longer enough. The Daily Mail screamed ‘Forget five, now it's eight portions of fruit and veg a day.’

However, this type of headline may be misleading. Five-a-day is still good.

In a statement, Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, says, "The take-home message is still that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy for your heart. We need to remember to make five portions our minimum as the more fruit and vegetables people ate the lower their risk of dying from heart disease became."

Five-a-day saves lives

More recent research from the British Heart Foundation and the University of Oxford suggested that 15,000 lives a year could be saved if everyone ate five servings a day.

Taylor continues: "We still don't know exactly why we see this relationship between fruit and vegetables and heart disease. It may be something in the fruit and vegetables itself, but equally it could be something in the lifestyles of people who tend to eat more fruit and vegetables. There's still work to be done by researchers to answer these questions."

What do we say? Eating more fruit and veg is still an important take home message. Five-a-day is good and eight-a-day is probably even better for your health.

SOURCES: News release, European Heart Journal.Francesca Crowe, MD, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, England. British Heart Foundation.NHS Choices: "Cardiovascular disease. CDC.

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