It’s no secret that eating several servings of fruit and vegetables daily is the best way to maintain good health when it comes to your diet. You’ll feel better, live longer, and look your best if you incorporate the right portions in your diet. Conversely, if you don’t get enough of these food groups, your health may begin to decline, and it will show.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has guidelines on how much of these two food groups people should eat. This association has been a reliable source for cardiovascular health since its inception in 1924. The guidelines are updated periodically to reflect people’s diets in modern times, especially as science uncovers new research and developments into human health.
The American Heart Association has published a news release on March 1st, 2021, about new research into the guidelines on how many daily servings of fruit and vegetables is ideal. With people trying to live their healthiest lives more than ever, this research couldn’t have come at a perfect time.
Details of the News Release by the American Heart Association
The study’s lead researcher was Dr. Dong D. Wang, M.D., Sc.D., an epidemiologist, nutritionist, and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. His team included Yanpin Li, Ph.D., Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, PhD., Bernard A. Rosner, Ph.D., Qi Sun, MD, ScD, and more.
Dr. Wang and his colleagues found evidence that the 5-a-day theory that the American Heart Association recommends is correct. Still, they made the recommendation more specific – two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily. According to their research, eating this combination seems to the right combination that promotes a longer lifespan.
This specific recommendation is significant because there hasn’t been much research into precisely the optimal mix. People have been following the American Heart Association’s loose guidelines and these guidelines certainly work, but anytime policies can get more specific, that leads to a better outcome.
The researchers compiled data from the Nurse’s Health Study (women, 1984 – 2014) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (men, 1986 – 2014). They included data for 66,719 women and 42,016 men. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes at the start of the data selection.
The study pulled data from surveys given to participants every two to four years during the data selection length. These surveys included questions about the participants’ regular diet and health.
Out of 108,735 participants, the researchers documented 33,898 deaths during the length of the data selection. They recognized a correlation between people who lived longer with people who ate more fruit and vegetables.
Those with the longest life spans were the ones that regularly ate three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. They also saw that the longer life span plateaued at five servings per day. In other words, eating more than five servings per day doesn’t expand your life any longer than only five servings per day.
One important note was that fruit juice and potatoes were not recommended as one of the servings in their study. This breaks away from current recommendations – the AHA currently suggests that 100% fruit juice and potatoes could serve fruit or vegetables.
It’s fair to say that their research included enough subjects to back up their theories significantly. Now people may be anxious to know if the AHA will officially adopt Dr. Wang’s research suggestions into their guidelines. The association allowed publishing the news release on their official website, so it’s not a far-fetched idea that they may use the research to update the guidelines.
How a Balanced Diet Helps You Live Longer
Food is your energy source. It’s like the gas you put in your car – it keeps you going. Just like gas has different grades correlating to the quality of the gas, food also does.
However, don’t think of food in grades. Think of it in terms of less healthy food to more nutritious food. The healthier your food is, the better, longer, and more efficient your body will run.
So, this leads to the question, “what makes food healthy or not healthy?”
Of course, anyone can probably name foods that are healthy and name foods that aren’t. However, if you understand what makes a particular food healthy, it’s much easier to make better decisions. Healthy foods will have these qualities:
- Lots of nutrients.
- Low to moderate amounts of calories.
- Low to the moderate glycemic index.
- More healthy fats than bad fats.
Out of these four qualities, the most important one is the first one. Food is indeed fuel, but more specifically, the nutrients in food are fuel. The nutrients are what interacts with your body’s functions and keep things working correctly. If a particular food doesn’t have very many nutrients, you’ll essentially be eating empty calories.
That’s one reason why fast food and snacks are not considered healthy foods. These foods don’t have many nutrients, to begin with, and once they’re cooked, cooking methods can kill off the little nutrients they have. Sure, this food might fill you up for a little while, but this food does nothing to expand your life and everything to expand your waistline.
Healthy foods are usually lower in calories than unhealthy foods. While this isn’t a rule that’s set in stone, it’s one that you can bet on.
The same goes for healthy fats vs. unhealthy fats. Healthy foods will contain more of the good fats – monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Unhealthy foods will have more saturated fats and trans fats. Look at the label for quick identification.
Finally, healthy foods won’t shoot up your blood sugar levels. This is especially important for people with diabetes. A fast spike in blood sugar will give you a temporary energy boost, but you’ll also get an equally dramatic crash right after that. Plus, blood sugar levels that constantly fluctuate dramatically lead to a whole host of other health problems that can shorten your life span.
You may think it’s easy to identify healthy foods and unhealthy foods. Most fruit and vegetables fall under healthy foods, but some of these could be unhealthy depending on the circumstances. If you pay attention to these four qualities, it will be easy to identify healthy foods over unhealthy foods. You should also keep other everyday things in mind like calories, carbohydrates, and more, but these four qualities won’t ever lead you in the wrong direction.
Foods That Help You Live Longer
As stated before, the nutrients that food provides are what lead to a longer lifespan. In general, all nutrients help you live longer because your body needs them. However, some offer more benefits than others. If you eat the right foods, you’ll get a whopping dose of these nutrients.
Here are some of the best foods you can eat for longer life:
- Oatmeal – choose one with lots of fiber; fights bad cholesterol.
- Avocado – a superfood that fights heart disease
- Olive oil – contains polyphenols that promote a healthy brain.
- Bell peppers – full of vitamins and antioxidants
- Tea – all types; promotes weight loss through increased metabolism.
- Coffee – gives you energy and fights inflammation.
- Leafy greens – spinach, kale, arugula, cabbage, lettuce
- Beans/Legumes – all types; a superfood that has all the right stuff and little to none of the wrong stuff
- Chia Seeds – full of fiber and antioxidants
- Blueberries – to fight inflammation and help boost memory.
- Apples – fights against diabetes.
- Red wine – has flavonoids that promote good overall health.
- Almonds – lots of fiber, protein, and healthy fats
- Walnuts – helps to lower cholesterol and promotes a healthy brain.
- Dark Chocolate – fights disease and inflammation.
- Salmon – rich in Omega-3 fats (a healthy fat)
Final Thoughts on the American Heart Association Recommendations
This new research doesn’t discredit anything that the American Heart Association has been recommending over the years. In fact, it strengthens it. The AHA will continue to be a primary authority worth listening to when it comes to heart health and living a long, healthy life.
As researchers and scientists continue to work with the association to discover new or better ways to live longer, people will continually have better lives. Keep this research in mind, and be sure to check with the American Heart Association often for the newest recommendation of the correct daily servings of fruit and vegetables. You’ll be glad you did.