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Story highlights

Eating more fruit and vegetables could reduce risk of premature death, study claims

But one expert says eating 10 portions could lead to nutritionally unbalanced diet

(CNN) —  

Eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day could significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and early death, according to new research.

The study, by Imperial College London, says consuming 10 portions per day, or about 800g, could prevent an estimated 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends eating 5 portions, or 400g, of fruit and vegetables every day.

In recent years, campaigns in countries across the world including the UK, Germany, France, Norway and Japan have been launched in a bid to encourage people to meet this target.

“Our results suggest that although five portions of fruit and vegetables is good, 10 a day is even better,” lead author Dr Dagfinn Aune said in a statement released by the college.

The research concluded that eating 10 portions per day was associated with a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in dying prematurely. The risk was calculated in comparison to not eating any fruit and vegetables.

“Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system. This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold. For instance they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage, and lead to a reduction in cancer risk,” Dr Aune said.

The research found that apples and pears as well as citrus fruits and vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli and cabbage are particularly effective in preventing strokes, heart disease and early death. Green and yellow vegetables such as spinach, peppers and carrots may reduce the risk of cancer.

Tom Sanders, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, has criticized the research. “Most people don’t eat more than 1kg of food per day, so if you eat 10 portions of fruit and vegetables, that leaves just 200g for cereals, nuts, pulses, meat and dairy, which is where we get most of our nutrients,” he told CNN.

Fruit and vegetables are mostly water and contain a lot of sugar, he said, so consuming 10 portions could mean a nutritionally unbalanced diet. The consumption of fruit and vegetables also has little effect on cholesterol, he argued.

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Eating smaller portions was also shown to be beneficial in the study, with 200g, or two and a half portions, associated with a 4% reduced risk in cancer risk, and 15% reduction in the risk of premature death, when compared to people not eating any fruits of vegetables.

“No one is disputing that fruit and vegetables are important,” said Sanders, “and most of us should probably be eating more as we generally overestimate our intake.” But eating more than five portions per day has very little added benefit and could even cause health problems, according to Sanders.

“It’s the people who are only eating one portion and who go up to three who see the biggest improvement in their health. Going from five to 10 has no big impact.”

CNN’s Simon Cullen contributed to this report.