I’ve said in a number of posts (here and here, for example) that fruit and veg intake is a marker of health, not a maker of health. Healthy people eat fruit and veg; fruit and veg does not make people healthy.
One of the best illustrations of this can be seen in Table 1 of this paper.
This table has the characteristics of the study participants grouped into fruit and veg intake. If you compare the column of the (9,897) people who consume no fruit and veg, or less than 1 portion a day, with the column of the (6,037) people who consume more than 7 portions a day, you can see the following differences. Those consuming more than 7-a-day are:
- Twice as likely to be in non-manual jobs.
- Four times as likely to be degree educated.
- A quarter as likely to be a current smoker.
- A quarter as likely to be inactive.
- Twice as likely to be vigorously active.
- Half as likely to drink over double the daily limit.
- Half as likely to die (during the study period).
Epidemiological studies, such as this one (and more appear every week) would like you to believe that the fruit and veg is the cause of the lower mortality/fewer incidents of disease – whatever this week’s paper tries to show. They claim that they have adjusted for “sex, age-group, cigarette smoking, social class, BMI, education, physical activity and alcohol intake.” But you cannot adjust for a whole lifestyle.
Picture the woman (because it is more likely a woman) who eats at least 7-a-day – educated, well-paid, company executive, slim, never smoked, occasionally drinks, snacks on mango slices on the way to the Pilates class, before picking Charlotte and George up from private school. Then picture the factory worker – the manual worker (if he’s lucky enough to have a job), left school at 16, smoking, drinking, largely sedentary, dad – worried about feeding the family – who didn’t eat a single item of fruit or veg yesterday. That’s what Table 1 describes. These studies are about health inequalities, not phytonutrients!
As I said in my seven-a-day post “Do researchers really think that we could take a Glaswegian man or woman – with a life expectancy of 71.6 and 78 respectively – and give them the life expectancy of the men and women in Kensington and Chelsea – 85.1 and 89.8 respectively – with extra portions of fruit and vegetables? May I suggest that the fruit and veg intake is a marker of a healthy lifestyle and not the maker of one?”