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People who consume around 375 to 500 grams of fruits, vegetables and dal per day are at a reduced risk of death by nearly 23 per cent, a new study published in The Lancethas found.

While World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 800 grams or 5-9 servings of fruit or vegetables per day, the new study has shown that it takes just half – that is, 375 grams to get the desired health benefits. This is important for people living in countries who cannot afford a lot of fruits and vegetables.

Potatoes and other tubers were not included and fruit juices were not considered as fruits while calculating the intake. Legumes included beans, black beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and black-eyed peas.

The researchers attribute beneficial effects of consuming fruits and vegetables to presence of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids, and fiber in them, which reduces bad cholesterol, improves insulin response, lowers the blood pressure, prevents fat deposition in blood vessels, and improves cellular function in the body.

“Although there is a popular belief that fruits, and vegetables are healthy, there was no long-term study data to support this and hence our findings are new and significant,” said Dr.V Mohan of the Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Specialties Centre in Chennai, who contributed to the study.

The decade-long research was done in 18 countries with 135,335 participants aged 35 to 70 years. Healthy individuals with no reported diseases and complications were enrolled for the study. They were given questionnaires to record daily diet, lifestyle habits like smoking, physical activity and alcohol intake, and their socioeconomic status like education, income, and employment.

At the end of the study, researchers recorded the number of deaths, cases of cardiovascular diseases, heart attack, and stroke. Then the data was analyzed to see if consuming higher amounts of fruits, vegetables, and dal is related to the number of deaths and adverse outcomes on health. “We found that regular consumption of vegetables, fruits and legumes protectedpeople from cardiovascular disease and death”, states Dr. Mohan.

“This study does not distinguish between cooked vegetables and raw ones, although it is common knowledge that cooking destroys some of the vitamins and minerals, hence as far as possible we should use raw vegetables like tomato, cucumber, carrot and green leafy vegetables which can be consumed raw”, pointed out Dr. Mohan.

According to Estefania Toledo, professor at the Department of Nutrition of the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, USA, who is not connected to the study,“Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables should beat the expense of reducing other foods and drinks, such as sugar sweetened beverages, red and processed meat, saturated and trans fat, refined cereals, and sugar rich desserts”. She added that consuming more plant-based foods helps replace detrimental foods, which benefits the overall dietary pattern.

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