Fruits and vegetables offer weak protection against cancer, from the Harvard Health Letter

Fruits and vegetables have been touted for two decades as potent cancer-fighting foods. Although new research has tarnished this image, they still pack a punch against high blood pressure, heart disease, and other chronic conditions, reports the June issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

Ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended 20 years ago that people eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases, research results have been chipping away at that notion. An overlooked Harvard study in 2001 suggested fruit and vegetable consumption in adulthood had no effect on developing breast cancer. A couple of years later, the WHO's own International Agency for Research on Cancer said evidence for cancer protection from a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet was limited. And in April 2010, results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Study (EPIC), which included data from almost half a million people from 10 different countries, showed that fruit and vegetable intake had only a very small effect on cancer risk.

Even if the EPIC results hold up and fruits and vegetables prove to be minor players in cancer prevention, we shouldn't give them up, advises the Harvard Health Letter. Cancer isn't the only health problem that is influenced by diet, and there's good evidence that eating fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, and other forms of cardiovascular disease, as well as type 2 diabetes, age-related memory and vision loss, diverticular disease, and other chronic conditions.

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