It’s no secret that nutritionists and medical professionals consider eating plenty of vegetables and fruit essential for a healthy diet. The usual recommendation is to eat a minimum of three servings of vegetables and two of fruit each day. Many people rarely, if ever, bother to do this. Research confirms, however, that a diet focusing on these plant foods can add years to a person’s lifespan.
Plant Foods for Longevity – Increase Vegetables
Results of research published in 2014 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggest that eating seven or more servings of vegetables and fruit every day provides significant protection against serious diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The risk of death from any cause decreased dramatically for people with this level of fruit and vegetable intake compared with other participants in the study, according to long-range survey data on thousands of adults age 35 or older.
Another study, this one appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013, had similar results. Eating five servings of fruit and vegetables each day seemed to reduce mortality risk by 47 percent compared with people who did not eat these foods at all. The study also showed that even eating one to three servings per day had protective effects compared with eating none.
Considerations About Fruit
The 2014 study indicated that eating canned and frozen fruit may work against a person’s health. Unfortunately, the authors of the study didn’t distinguish between canned and frozen products in the survey. One possibility for the negative findings is that canned fruit packed in fructose syrup is high in sugar.
When choosing canned fruit at the grocery store, select products that do not contain any syrup or added sugar. Dried fruit without added sugar is a good choice as well.
Another consideration is that even fresh fruit is higher in sugar than most vegetables are.
The study showed that increasing the number of vegetables eaten per day had a stronger effect than doing the same with fruit. When working toward the goal of eating seven servings of these plant foods every day, focus more on the vegetables.
Nuts Count Too
These two studies did not consider nuts in the equation, but botanically, nuts are dried fruit. Two other studies, both run by Harvard, found significant positive results for people who ate nuts several times a week or every day compared with those who did not do this.
The combined results got published in 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The two studies followed thousands of adult men and women for many years. People who ate nuts every day reduced their risk of mortality by 20 percent compared with people who never ate nuts.
About one-third cup of nuts is considered one serving. You can eat any nuts you prefer, including peanuts. This tasty snack helps stave off hunger pangs because nuts are full of protein. Nut butter is another option, although it’s best to limit the amount to 2 tablespoons per day. When eating whole nuts, not all the calories and fat are absorbed, whereas nut butter is easy for the digestive system to absorb.
How to Succeed in This Goal
Eating from a daily menu that features plenty of these plant foods appears to be an easy way to improve health and prevent disease. Many people find it difficult, at least at first, to include this amount of healthy plant foods in their diet.
That’s no reason not to attempt doing so, however. Eating three to five servings also has significant positive effects on longevity, according to the 2014 study.
How can you boost your intake to three, five or seven servings per day?
You might start with some fruit at breakfast. A large banana or small apple counts as one serving, and so does one cup of cubed watermelon. A large orange, a medium-sized grapefruit and a cup of blueberries are other possibilities.
Although drinking a cup of fruit juice provides essential nutrients and technically counts as a serving of fruit, the lack of fiber means a spike in sugar in the body. Eating the actual fruit instead of drinking the juice is a healthier choice. However, if you love orange juice or another fruit beverage and this is about the only way you’ll get one serving, go ahead and enjoy unless you have issues with blood sugar.
Two cups of leafy greens and one cup of other cooked or raw vegetables are each considered one serving.
It’s easier to include more vegetables in the diet than you might think. Green, red and orange are the best choices because they contain more antioxidants and are not starch-based. Beans categorized as legumes are excellent sources of protein and fiber.
With a sandwich, add a bowl of soup that includes a cup of vegetables and legumes. A side dish of one cup of vegetables is another possibility.
Snacking on veggies during the day adds another serving. Keep some chopped-up broccoli, carrots, cauliflower or other options in the refrigerator. Although refrigerated dip adds calories to the snack, it’s an option if that’s the only way to convince yourself to munch on these fresh foods.
Before dinner, eat a salad with lettuce and other leafy greens, but skip the iceberg lettuce because it’s low in nutrients. Add sliced tomatoes and cucumber if you like.
Many delicious meals can easily include a cup of beans or other vegetables. Burritos and tacos, casseroles and omelets can consist of these foods. Order pizza with mushrooms, onions and green peppers. Make lasagna with spinach and zucchini.
Research shows that people can extend their lifespan by eating a diet packed with plant-based nutrients. Including plenty of vegetables, fruit and nuts in the daily menu has significant health benefits. Gradually boosting intake to the recommended servings per day will help you be successful in this goal.