World Fruit and Vegetable Consumption May Be Too Low

Daily fruit and vegetable intake fell short of recommendations in global study

(RxWiki News) Health experts around the globe stress fruit and vegetable intake. But adults might not be getting enough of these items in their diets.

A new study looked at fruit and vegetable consumption in adults from 13 world regions.

The study found that more than half of surveyed adults did not eat the recommended number of daily fruits and vegetables. Those adults may be falling short on key nutrients.

"Try keeping fruits and veggies on hand for an easy snack."

This study was conducted by Mary M. Murphy, RD, of Exponent, Inc., an engineering and scientific consulting firm in Washington, DC, and colleagues.

The study authors said a lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet may mean a lack of phytonutrients — compounds found in plants that have been tied to overall health and a reduced risk for some chronic diseases.

"We have long known eating more fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk for diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and now we may know why," said Mary Finckenor, MA, RD, dietitian and diabetes educator at Cardiac Rehabilitation at Morristown Medical Center.

"Fruit and vegetables are major sources of phytonutrients — powerful plant compounds that protect your health and prevent disease. While we are just starting to learn about phytonutrients and their specific benefits, this study makes one thing is clear: the more you eat, the more you get. So, pick up a fruit or vegetable and increase your phytonutrient intake today," Finckenor told dailyRx News.

In their research, Murphy and colleagues wanted to examine fruit and veggie consumption and phytonutrient levels of people across the globe.

To do so, they used data on fruit and vegetable consumption from the World Health Organization's 2002-2004 World Health Survey. They also used data from the US Department of Agriculture to determine the phytonutrient concentration of various fruits and vegetables. To determine what fruits and vegetables were most available in different regions, the authors used data from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The study authors assessed the fruit and veggie intake of 196,925 adults from 52 countries in 13 world regions.

The survey asked adult participants how many servings of fruits and vegetables they consumed on a typical day. One serving of vegetables was considered a cup of raw leafy greens or half of a cup of chopped vegetables — cooked or raw. One serving of fruit was a medium-sized piece of fruit, like an apple or a banana, or half of a cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit. One half of a cup of either fruit or vegetable juice was also considered a serving.

Murphy and team relied on data from the FAO to estimate which types of produce participants in different regions were most likely to have eaten.

The researchers found that the majority of the surveyed adults — between 58 and 88 percent — did not meet the World Health Organization's minimum of five servings a day (or 400 grams) of fruits and vegetables.

Adults who had lower fruit and vegetable intake had lower phytonutrient intake as well. Murphy and team estimated that adults who ate five servings or more of fruits and vegetables a day had between two and six times the average phytonutrient intake of adults who ate fewer than five servings a day.

Murphy and team found differences in phytonutrient intake between different regions. European regions got more alpha and beta carotene — which have been associated with a reduced risk for heart disease and vision problems. The study authors also found that the intake of ellagic acid — which may help reduce DNA damage — was generally lower in Africa than elsewhere.

Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand more about how phytonutrients affect health, the authors noted.

The study was published online Aug. 11 in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Funding for the study was provided by the Nutrilite Health Institute — a plant-based nutrition research and education company based in Buena Park, CA, that also sells products like vitamins and supplements. The study authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 5, 2014