The government of the United Kingdom recommends that every British citizen consume five servings of fruits and/or vegetables every day for optimum health. A new study from the University College London (UCL) says more is better. The research indicates that people of all ages live longer and healthier when they have at least seven servings a day of fruits and veggies.

Dr. Oyinola Oyebode, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCL, and her team of researchers pored through the eating habits of 65,226 men and women to see what they routinely ate, what ailments they suffered, and when and how they died. The data was taken from the Health Survey for England covering the years 2001 through 2008.

Fruits and vegetablesThe UCL study defined a serving as about 80 grams (3 ounces), or roughly one whole large fruit or veggie or a handful of smaller fruits and vegetables. Findings included:

  • 42% decreased risk of death from any cause when 7 to 10 servings were consumed daily.
  • The risk from dying of cancer or heart disease was reduced the most.
  • Fresh veggies produced the greatest degree of protection.
  • Salads were the next best protection.
  • Fruits followed.
  • Fruit juices produced no protective effects.
  • Canned fruit increased, rather than decreased, the risk of death.
  • Potatoes are considered starches, not vegetables, so were not included in the study.

Oyebode says the relation between number of servings and reduced risk of death was "staggering." She acknowledges that other extenuating circumstances such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and level of physical activity contribute to health and well-being but corrections for those factors were included in her analysis.

While some people embrace the findings of the Oyebode study as deliciously good news, others are not so enthused:

  • The UK government is satisfied with its five-a-day campaign and says many people struggle to meet this goal.
  • Tom Sanders, a professor at the King's College London School of Medicine, says it's already an established fact that people who eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables tend to be more affluent, better educated, and more health conscious than those who consume fewer.
  • At the University of Glasgow, Scotland, Professor Naveed Sattar says the goal of seven servings a day is "really challenging."
  • Dr. Alison Tedstone, of Public Health England, calls the study "interesting" but "premature" and says the five-a-day message is simpler to understand.
  • The Australian government's recommendation is “2 + 5” (two fruit servings and five servings of vegetables).
  • In the United States, government recommendations are more complicated. Daily recommendations are based on a person's age, gender, and level of physical activity and are measured in cups per day rather than servings.

Source: Stephens, Pippa. "Seven-a-day fruit and veg 'saves lives.'" BBC News Health. The BBC. Apr 1, 2014. Web. Apr 10, 2014.