You Might Not Need to Eat as Many Fruits and Veggies as You Think

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

The age-old advice for fruit and veggie consumption is that adults need at least five servings of produce a day. But is that really the truth, and is it still relevant? According to a new study, you don’t need quite as much. The study, published in the Lancet, recommends just three to four servings a day of combined fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

After looking at health and diet data from more than 135,000 subjects across five continents over the course of seven years, the researchers cross-referenced dietary intake with mortality rates. They found those who ate three to four servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes were 22 percent less likely to die than those who ate less than one serving a day. But when it came to people who ate more than three to four servings, there was no added decline in mortality rates.

Even when the scientists adjusted their findings for variables like age, gender, physical activity, and meat consumption, the correlation was significant. There was even a difference between raw veggies and cooked veggies: raw vegetables had a greater association with reduced risk of death.

But before you start planning all the ways you’re going to reduce your intake, know that it’s not too far off from the U.S. dietary guidelines. Three servings in the study came out to be 375 grams of food, while the five servings generally recommended is roughly 400 grams. Lead author Victoria Miller, a doctoral student at McMaster University tells TIME that it’s “fairly consistent with current dietary guidelines.”

What this study does suggest, however, is that more than 400 grams of fruits and vegetables might not be as necessary as previously believed.

“We’re emphasizing that individuals in low- or middle-income countries who have affordability issues should focus on eating at least three to four servings per day,” Miller says.

The study’s implications are significant for some nations, where the average person has lower food security than those living in the U.S. or Europe.

“Even a small reduction in the recommendation from 400 grams to 375 grams a day may have important implications on household spending and food security on poorer countries,” write the authors in the study.