Harvard Health Letter

News briefs: Fruits and veggies: Quantity trumps variety, say Harvard researchers



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A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. And it may not take a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to do the job. A Harvard study in the December 2013 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the amount of produce people ate was more important than the types of produce. People who ate the most fruits and vegetables each week (five servings or more) had up to a 17% lower risk of developing heart disease than people who ate fewer servings. "It's likely from compounds found in these healthy food choices, which may explain why foods usually come out more beneficial in health studies than studies of pills that test a single compound extracted from foods and put into a pill," says Dr. Eric Rimm, one of the study authors and an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Despite the finding about quantity, Dr. Rimm and his colleagues also noted that specific fruits and vegetables were associated with a lower risk of heart disease, including citrus fruit, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, and vegetables loaded with beta carotene, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. So which should you focus on, variety or quantity? "Clearly to get the most benefit, at least a few different types of fruits and vegetables should be in your diet," he says.