A vegan or vegetarian diet has long been promoted as a healthy lifestyle choice thanks to a mountain of evidence available to back it up. And now, there’s even more quantitative evidence. A recent report from University College of London reveals that eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day is linked to reduced mortality at any age. 
Researchers performed a longitudinal study in which they observed the eating habits of a representative cross-section of over 65,000 people from 2001 to 2013. They discovered that the more fruits and vegetables a person ate, the lower their risk was of dying from all causes. Those who ate seven or more fruit and vegetable servings per day reduced their risk of death by 42% compared to those who ate less than one serving per day. The study also revealed that eating seven or more portions a day reduced the risk of cancer death by 25% and heart disease death by 31%.
How Much Fruits and Vegetables?
The US Department of Agriculture defines a portion as 1 cup of raw fruits or vegetables, ½ a cup of dried fruit, 1 cup of cooked vegetables, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens. They also recommend that at mealtimes, half your plate should be fruits or vegetables. Not mac and cheese, not coleslaw — fruits and vegetables.
People who currently are not eating seven fruits and vegetables a day shouldn’t be discouraged. While more is better, the study found that risk of death is reduced 14% when you regularly eat one to three portions, 29% for three to five, and 36% for five to seven portions. Both fruits and vegetables are beneficial, but vegetables are associated with a slightly greater benefit. Anyone who is struggling to get to seven servings may want to focus on adding more vegetables to their meals.
What About Juicing?
Reaching for processed juice products won't give you the same benefit. UCLA researchers found no significant health benefit from fruit juice, and canned or frozen fruit had a slightly negative effect on health due in part to the heavy syrup used to pack many cheaper types of canned fruit. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, fresh is always best. If you're going to have juice, buy a juicer and make your own. In my opinion, smoothies are similar enough to juice yet retain all the beneficial fiber.
There is an Upper Limit
Although adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet may put you in a good position to live a long healthy life, it won't make you live forever. Nobody is getting out of here alive, but we can do things that help us have a healthy existence while we're here. A healthy diet is an important foundation, alongside other good habits like exercise and dealing with stress in a positive way.
- Oyinlola Oyebode, Vanessa Gordon-Dseagu, Alice Walker, Jennifer S Mindell. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 31 March 2014. doi: 10.1136/jech-2013-203500.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.