Getting plenty of fruits and vegetables in your breakfast, lunch and dinner could help to protect you from dying early, a new study suggests.
And the effects seemed to be especially pronounced the more servings of produce people ate each day, found researchers from University College London.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, included data from 65,000 adults age 35 and older, who participated in health surveys in England between 2001 and 2008. Researchers tracked deaths in this group of participants for an average of 7.5 years; by the end of the monitoring period, 6.7 percent of the participants -- or 4,399 people -- died.
The study participants reported consuming just under four portions of produce, on average, the previous day. Researchers found an association between consuming seven or more portions of fruits and vegetables each day and a 33 percent decreased risk of dying from any cause over the study period.
And when researchers excluded deaths within the first year from the start of the study, consuming at least seven portions of fruits and vegetables was associated with a 42 percent lower risk of overall premature death, as well as a 25 percent lower risk of dying from cancer and a 31 percent lower risk of dying from stroke or heart disease.
Vegetables seemed to confer a greater protective effect than fruits. Specifically, consuming two to three portions a day of vegetables was associated with a 19 percent decreased premature death risk, versus a 10 percent decreased risk with fruit.
However, frozen and canned fruit was actually associated with a higher risk of death from all causes over the study period. "As far as we know, no other studies have shown this result," the researchers wrote in the study. "This may be due to confounding for example by (poor) access to fresh groceries in deprived areas or among people with pre-existing ill-health or a more hectic lifestyle."
The researchers noted that because frozen fruit is considered nutritionally equivalent to fresh fruit, the reason behind this particular finding might be that canned fruit generally contains higher sugar levels, especially when packed in syrup, or even fruit juice.
In a related editorial, experts from the Institute of Psychology, Health & Society at the University of Liverpool noted that the "burning question" now is, "whether the refined sugars added to 'processed' fruit products might reduce, negate or even reverse the fruit potential benefits." Indeed, current health recommendations that include canned fruit and fruit juices as being part of daily produce consumption might need to be changed, considering the amount of sugars in these products, they said.