Many sources recognize June 17 as “National Eat Your Vegetables Day.” Whatever the origins of this national health observance, the wisdom of encouraging Americans to consume more fruit and vegetables is underscored by a large new study published on June 3 in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.
The new study, by Drs. Michael Orlich and Gary Fraser at Loma Linda University, and colleagues, explored the connections between dietary patterns and death in 73,000 Seventh-day Adventist men and women, ages 25 and older, and found that those on a vegetarian diet tended to live longer and have a lower death rate due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and renal disorders such as kidney failure, than non-vegetarians.
The research was part of an ongoing study of diet and health being conducted with respect to Seventh-day Adventists, who were chosen as participants in the study because their similar lifestyle habits and range of dietary patterns make them an ideal group for examining links between diet and the causes of death and disease, according to a report on the study issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which provided funding for the study.
“Research has shown that the foods you eat influence your health. Eating certain foods, such as fruits and nuts, has been associated with reduced death rates, while other foods, such as red meat and processed meat, have been linked to increased mortality,” according to the NIH report.
Vegetarian diets have been associated with reductions in risk for several chronic diseases, including hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus and ischemic heart disease, according to background information published with the study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Some evidence suggests vegetarian dietary patterns may be associated with reduced mortality, but the relationship is not well established,” the background information published with the study noted. The new study provides further evidence that vegetarian diets are associated with longevity.
The Study; Method
Michael J. Orlich, M.D., of Loma Linda University in California, and colleagues examined the relationship between diet and all-cause and cause-specific mortality in a group of 73,308 Seventh-day Adventist men and women.
Based on a questionnaire, the researchers grouped the participants into five groups according to their dietary patterns: non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian (includes seafood), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (includes dairy and egg products) and vegan (excludes all animal products).
According to the NIH report, “nearly half of the participants were nonvegetarian, eating red meat, poultry, fish, milk and eggs more than once a week. Of the remaining, 8% were vegan (eating red meat, fish, poultry, dairy or eggs less than once a month); 29% were lacto-ovo vegetarians (eating eggs and/or dairy products, but red meat, fish or poultry less than once per month); 10% were pesco-vegetarians (eating fish, milk and eggs but rarely red meat or poultry); and 5% were semi-vegetarian (eating red meat, poultry and fish less than once per week).”
The researchers followed the participants over an average follow-up period of approximately 6 years. During that time, there were 2,570 deaths among the study participants, which translated to an overall mortality rate of six deaths per 1,000 person years.
The researchers used statistical analysis to measure the comparative relationship between the different diets and risk of death from all-causes and from specific causes.
The authors found that the overall risk of death (from all causes) was 12% lower in the vegetarians (all vegetarian dietary groups combined) than in the non-vegetarians. In addition, “The death rates for subgroups of vegans, lacto-ovo–vegetarians, and pesco-vegetarians were all significantly lower than those of nonvegetarians,” according to the NIH report on the study.
The researchers also found significant reductions in risk of death from cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease among the men study participants who were vegetarians, compared with the non-vegetarian men. However, they found no significant reductions in death from these causes among women participants who were vegetarians, compared to the non-vegetarian women.
“Significant associations with vegetarian diets were detected for cardiovascular mortality, noncardiovascular noncancer mortality, renal mortality, and endocrine mortality,” the authors wrote. “Associations in men were larger and more often significant than were those in women,” they noted.
“These results demonstrate an overall association of vegetarian dietary patterns with lower mortality compared with the nonvegetarian dietary pattern. They also demonstrate some associations with lower mortality of the pesco-vegetarian, vegan and lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets specifically compared with the nonvegetarian diet,” the authors stated.
“Vegetarian diets are associated with lower all-cause mortality and with some reductions in cause-specific mortality,” the authors concluded. “Results appeared to be more robust in males.”
“These favorable associations should be considered carefully by those offering dietary guidance,” the authors urged.
Even if You are Not a Vegetarian, Can Eating Fruits and Veggies Help Your Health?
The answer is yes, according to information published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
“Eat your fruits and vegetables” is good advice, the CDC says, because “research shows that:
- Healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
- Fruits and vegetables also provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health.
- Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are filling.”
The official 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the USDA and HHS advises that you should make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
National Eat Your Vegetables Day – June 17 – How much Fruit & Vegetables Should You Eat?
Several sources recognize June 17 as “National Eat Your Vegetables Day.”
According to Holiday Insights, “On this day, you are encouraged to eat vegetables for every meal, and for a snack. Better still, try to be a vegetarian….for the day. Short of that, any additional vegetables at meal time today will honor the event, as well as make you a little healthier.”
But longer term, how much fruit and vegetables should you eat every day to make a difference for your health?
The CDC provides a Fruit and Vegetable Calculator to help you determine how much fruit and vegetables you should eat, based on your calorie needs for your age, sex, and activity level.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a pamphlet, “How Many Fruits and Vegetables Do You Need?” which includes charts giving you the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables you should eat each day, for good health, based on your gender, age, and activity level.
For example, the USDA pamphlet advises that a woman age 55 or over, with a moderately active lifestyle, should eat 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day.
A man age 55 or over, with a moderately active lifestyle, should eat 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables per day, according to the USDA pamphlet.
To help you better understand what this means – how many fruits or vegetables are in 1 or 2 or 3 cups – the CDC provides helpful charts on its website, What Counts as a Cup?
For more resources on eating fruits and vegetables, including How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage your Weight, see the CDC website.
See also related HelpingYouCare® reports on:
For more information on a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise and other lifestyle factors that promote wellness and prevent diseases, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:
- Weight Loss/ Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Physical Wellness;
- Diet & Nutrition: Physical Wellness;
- Exercise: Physical Wellness;
- Sleep, Hygiene, Quit Smoking & Other Healthy Practices: Physical Wellness;
- Activities to Preserve Mental Acuity: Intellectual Wellness;
- Social Interaction & A Sense of Connection With Others: Social Wellness;
- Other Areas of Wellness: Emotional, Ethical/ Spiritual & Vocational Wellness; and
- Healthy Living: Stories of Inspiring Seniors.
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