It’s no secret that eating several servings of fruits and vegetables a day is the best way to maintain good health when it comes to your diet. You will feel better, live longer, and look better if you get the right portions into your diet. On the contrary, if you don’t get enough of these food groups, your health can start to deteriorate 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 trusted source for cardiovascular health since its beginning in 1924. The guidelines are periodically updated to reflect people’s diets in modern times, especially as science uncovers new research and developments in human health.
The American Heart Association has published a press release on March 1, 2021, on new research on guidelines for how many daily servings of fruits and vegetables is ideal. With people trying to live healthier lives than ever, this research couldn’t have come at the perfect time.
American Heart Association press release details
The study’s principal investigator was Dr. Dong D. Wang, MD, Sc.D., an epidemiologist, nutritionist, and faculty member of 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 recommended by the American Heart Association is correct. Still, they made the most specific recommendation: two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day. Based on their research, eating this combination appears to be the correct combination that promotes a longer lifespan.
This specific recommendation is important because not much research has been done on the optimal combination. People have been following the flexible guidelines of the American Heart Association and these guidelines certainly work, but at any time the policies can be more specific, leading to a better outcome.
The researchers collected data from Nurse’s Health Study (women, 1984-2014) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (men, 1986-2014). They included data from 66,719 women and 42,016 men. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes at the beginning of data selection.
The study extracted data from surveys given to participants every two to four years for the duration of data selection. These surveys included questions about the participants’ usual diet and health.
Of 108,735 participants, the researchers documented 33,898 deaths during the duration of data selection. They recognized a correlation between people who lived longer and people who ate more fruits and vegetables.
Those with the longest life expectancy were those who regularly ate three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. They also saw that the longest shelf life stabilized at five servings per day. In other words, eating more than five servings a day does not extend your life more than five servings a day.
An important note was that fruit juice and potatoes were not recommended as one of the servings in their study. This breaks with current recommendations – The AHA currently suggests that 100% fruit juice and potatoes could serve fruits or vegetables.
It’s fair to say that his research included enough topics to support his theories in a meaningful way. Now people may be anxious to know whether the AHA will officially adopt Dr. Wang’s research suggestions in its guidelines. The association allowed the press release to be posted on their official website, so it’s not a far-fetched idea that they could use the research to update the guidelines.
How a balanced diet helps you live longer
Food is your source of energy. It’s like the gas you put in your car: it keeps you going. Just as gas has different grades that relate to the quality of the gas, food does too.
However, don’t think of food in degrees. Think of it in terms of less healthy foods to more nutritious foods. The healthier your food, the better, longer, and more efficiently your body will function.
So this leads to the question, “what makes food healthy or not?”
Of course, anyone can probably name the foods that are healthy and those that are not. However, if you understand what makes a particular food healthy, it is much easier to make better decisions. Healthy foods will have these qualities:
- Many nutrients.
- Low to moderate amounts of calories.
- Low to moderate glycemic index.
- More healthy fats than bad fats.
Of these four qualities, the most important is the first. Food is actually fuel, but more specifically, the nutrients in food are fuel. Nutrients are what interact with your body’s functions and keep things working properly. If a particular food doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, it will basically consume empty calories.
That is one of the reasons why fast food and snacks are not considered healthy foods. These foods don’t have a lot of nutrients to begin with, and once cooked, cooking methods can remove what few nutrients they do have. Sure, this food may fill you up for a while, but this food does nothing to expand your life and everything to expand your waistline.
Healthy foods tend to have fewer calories than unhealthy foods. While this is not a rule set in stone, it is one you can bet on.
The same goes for healthy fats versus unhealthy fats. Healthy foods will contain more good fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Unhealthy foods will have more saturated fat and trans fat. Look at the label for quick identification.
Finally, healthy foods will not spike your blood sugar levels. This is especially important for people with diabetes. A quick spike in blood sugar will give you a temporary energy boost, but you’ll also get an equally dramatic crash right after that. Also, blood sugar levels constantly fluctuate dramatically lead to a host of other health problems that can shorten your life.
You may think that it is easy to identify healthy foods and unhealthy foods. Most fruits and vegetables are included in healthy foods, but some of them may not be healthy depending on the circumstances. If you pay attention to these four qualities, it will be easy to identify healthy food over unhealthy food. You also have to take into account other everyday things like calories, carbs, and more, but these four qualities will never take you in the wrong direction.
Foods that help you live longer
As mentioned above, it is the nutrients that food provides that lead to the longest shelf life. 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 will get a huge dose of these nutrients.
Here are some of the best foods you can eat for a longer life:
- Oatmeal: choose one with a lot of fiber; fights bad cholesterol.
- Avocado: a superfood that fights heart disease
- Olive oil: contains polyphenols that promote brain health.
- Bell peppers: packed with vitamins and antioxidants
- Tea – all types; promotes weight loss through increased metabolism.
- Coffee: gives you energy and fights inflammation.
- Green leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, arugula, cabbage, lettuce
- Beans / Legumes – all types; a superfood that has all the right things and little to none of the wrong
- Chia seeds: packed with fiber and antioxidants
- Blueberries: to fight inflammation and help stimulate memory.
- Apples – fight against diabetes.
- Red wine: has flavonoids that promote good general health.
- Almonds: lots of fiber, protein, and healthy fats
- Walnuts: help lower cholesterol and promote a healthy brain.
- Bitter chocolate: fights diseases and inflammation.
- Salmon: rich in omega-3 fats (a healthy fat)
Final thoughts on the recommendations of the American Heart Association
This new research does not discredit anything that the American Heart Association has recommended over the years. In fact, it strengthens it. The AHA will continue to be a leading authority worth listening to when it comes to heart health and a long, healthy life.
As researchers and scientists continue to work with the association to discover new or better ways to living more time, people will always have a better life. Keep this research in mind and be sure to check back with the American Heart Association frequently for the latest recommendation on the correct daily servings of fruits and vegetables. You’ll be glad you did.