A new study points to just how many fruits and vegetables you should eat each day to get longevity benefits.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
March 02, 2021
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It is probably no surprise that fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy eating pattern. That being said, most Americans aren't eating enough. The CDC reports that only one in ten Americans is getting the recommended amount of produce in their day. It can be confusing to know exactly what and how much you need (what is a serving, anyway?). A recent study published in Circulation did a comprehensive review of previous research to find out how much and what type of produce you actually need in a day. 

USDA MyPlate recommends aiming for one to two cups of fruits and one to three cups of vegetables each day. So how does this compare with what the researchers found when looking at longevity? Turns out, it is pretty spot on. 

When researchers analyzed data from over 2 millions participants, they found that those who ate five servings of produce a day had the lowest risk of death. Specifically, having two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day resulted in the greatest longevity. Not only did this intake of fruits and vegetables decrease death risk, but it also lowered risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease. Controversially, they found that a greater intake of fruits and veg was not associated with more benefits. 

Though this research was observational and shows association rather than causation, it is a great starting goal for people trying to boost their intake. We know from plenty of other research that eating more fruits and vegetables is good for your health. Fresh produce is packed with nutrients and antioxidants that help our bodies function at their best and reduce chronic disease risk. They are are low in calories and packed with fiber, perfect for helping maintain a healthy weight.

MyPlate considers one cup of fruit or fruit juice, as well as 1/2 cup of dried fruit one serving. Medium sized whole fruits, like apples and oranges, are considered to be about one cup. One serving of vegetables is defined as one cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or two cups of raw leafy greens. One cup of cooked broccoli, one large bell pepper, one cup of carrot slices and one large baked sweet potato all count as a serving. You would need to eat two cups of romaine lettuce or spinach to count as a serving. For more specifics, check out these examples of what a day of fruits and vegetables looks like.

For vegetables, try to have a one-cup serving at every meal. Add peppers and onions to an omelet for breakfast, and have vegetables and hummus on the side of your sandwich at lunch. Side salads are another great way to boost your intake, too (just remember a serving of leafy greens is two cups, instead of one). Also, try adding vegetables to foods you already eat, like mixing in peppers and zucchini into spaghetti sauce or adding spinach to casseroles and soups. Fruits make a great side to any meal or snack, and can be a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth after dinner. For more inspiration, check out our Eat More Vegetables page.