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Study: Fruits and Veggies Cuts Premature Cancer Death Risk

older couple cookingA new study that looked at a snapshot of what people were eating suggests that just a few fruits and vegetables a day reduces the risk of dying from cancer and an earlier death overall, compared to those who ate none. And the more produce people ate, the lower their risk of dying during the course of the study.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, builds on previous data on healthy lifestyle and earlier mortality. Previous research investigating how AICR's Recommendations for Cancer Prevention link to mortality suggest that following the recommendations, which includes eating a plant-based diet, both lengthens lives and reduces cancer mortality.

The study used data from approximately 65,000 participants, ages 35 or older, who represent the population of England. They had answered questions annually about how many and what types of fruit and vegetables they had eaten in the past 24 hours, as well as other health habits.

After an average of 8 years, the people who were eating seven or more fruits and vegetables each day had a 33 percent reduced risk of dying from any cause compared to their non-produce eating counterparts. Even consuming one to three fruits and vegetables a day reduced risk of death by about 10 percent, compared to those who ate none. The link was even stronger when excluding those who died during the first year of the study, which may have been due to illness.

Eating seven or more fruits and vegetables a day linked to a 25 percent reduced risk of dying from cancer. This group was even less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The protective effects were seen after taking into account several factors that play a role in earlier death, including their age, whether they smoke, and their weight. Eating vegetables and salads had the most pronounced protective effect.

Further research targeting different types of fruits and vegetables on mortality are needed, the study concludes.

Surprinsgly, the study also found a modest link between frozen/canned fruit consumption and increased mortality; a link that could be caused by several factors, says Oyinlola Oyebode, at the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College London, and the lead author of the study. "We think it is either because canned fruit contains high sugar content if it is canned in fruit juice or syrup or the result is confounded," she said. People who eat more canned and frozen fruit might also eat a lot of other processed food which might be the real reason they were more likely to die, she said. Although the researchers adjusted for the the main cofounders they might have missed something.

Yet the overall findings are robust, notes Oyebode: "The important take away message is the more you eat the better -- even if you just increase to three portions from one."

Sources: Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, et al. "Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data." J Epidemiol Community Health. Published Online First March 31, 2014.

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