News

Two Apples a Day? Research Finds Right Mix of Fruits and Veggies for Longer Life

Woman grocery shopping in the produce section

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • We all know fruits and vegetables are important, but a new study says the right way to do it is to eat three servings of vegetables a day, and two servings of fruit.
  • Experts say this supports the long-standing fruit and vegetable recommendations from around the world.
  • Easy ways to add more fruits and veggies into your diet include adding them to soups, stews, and baked foods.

Doctors and nutritionists have been telling us for years that we need to eat a variety of fruits and veggies every day for optimal health. And now a new study, published in the journal Circulation, has offered some further guidance on the best way to do it. 

According to researchers from Harvard Medical School and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, we should be eating five servings a day: three vegetables and two of fruits (one serving is about one small piece of fruit, one cup of raw vegetables, or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables). 

This conclusion was reached following an analysis of two major studies on adult nutrition, the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

The Study

In total, they looked at 66,719 women and 42,016 men without cardiovascular disease, cancer, or diabetes at the start of the evaluation. When the researchers compared the participants’ fruit and vegetable intake with their cause of death between the mid-80s and 2014, they found a link between a higher intake of those foods and a lower risk of death from cancer, diabetes, and other major health issues.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommends 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day. However, almost 90% of the US population don't meet the recommendation for vegetables, and about 80% don't meet fruit recommendations.

The scientists also examined 26 other similar studies with smaller groups of people from around the world, and the studies supported their conclusions. Overall, the other studies were consistent with the five-a-day mix for maximum risk reduction, as well as the two fruit/three vegetable serving breakdown.

“The recent study supports the long-standing fruit and vegetable recommendations from around the world,” says Stacey Krawczyk, MS, RD, the consulting registered dietitian for the Grain Foods Foundation and President of FoodWell Strategies.  

Not All Fruits and Veggies Are Equal

Some fruits and vegetables aren't included in the study’s recommendations. The authors suggest that potatoes and starchy vegetables (like peas and corn) do not contribute to the overall risk reduction. They also don’t count fruit juice as “fruits.” 

“Considering most of the starchy vegetables consumed in the U.S. are fried potatoes (i.e. French fries), we should perhaps better understand this food frequency data to see if there is really less support for starchy vegetables or [if] it is related more to the food preparation form of the starchy vegetables,” Krawczyk says.

Stacey Krawczyk, MS, RD

We know that the overall fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S. is decreasing. We need all the help we can get to encourage people to consume fruits and vegetables, not discourage them.

— Stacey Krawczyk, MS, RD

Krawczyk says it’s similar to the conflicting information regarding refined grains. “The category of ‘refined grains”’ includes both staple enriched grain foods (such as breads, cereals, and pastas) and the more indulgent grain foods (like cakes, cookies, and croissants),” she explains. “The unintended consequences of lumping all foods and forms within a food category and making sweeping recommendations negates the inherent nutrition the more staple-based grain foods contribute.”

Vanessa Rissetto MS, RD, CDN, co-founder of Culina Health, agrees. “Of course starchy veggies like potatoes, peas, and corn are good for us,” she says. “Their benefits include fiber, protein, and minerals. Just try to add a non-starchy vegetable to your plate as well.” 

Try not to get too hung up on the starchy vegetable issue if peas and beans are your go-to—any veggies are better than no veggies. “We know that the overall fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S. is decreasing,” Krawczyk says. “We need all the help we can get to encourage people to consume fruits and vegetables, not discourage them.” 

Easy Ways to Eat More Fruits and Veggies 

Tejal Pathak, RD, a clinical dietitian, diabetes educator, and practitioner based in Houston, Texas, suggests remembering “VF” (veggies first). “Simply add your favorite veggies to pizza and your not-so favorites to soups, stews, and baked food items,” she says. “That way, they blend with other flavors, but you still get all the nutrition.” Also, keep ready to eat snack-type veggies (like cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, carrots, and bell peppers) handy to use as anytime snacks or as sides with lunch and dinner. 

When it comes to fruits, Pathak says they’re easy to incorporate in smoothies, yogurt, muffins, cookies, and shakes. 

Tejal Pathak, RD

Keep fruits and vegetables in your line of vision inside the refrigerator and on the countertop for quick grab and go.

— Tejal Pathak, RD

“Keep fruits and vegetables in your line of vision inside the refrigerator and on the countertop for quick grab and go,” she adds. And to increase your range of fruits and vegetables and ensure your meals are nutrient dense, explore different food items from diverse cuisines. 

Rissetto recommends aiming for at least one fruit per day and adding a non-starchy vegetable at lunch and dinner. “It’s a good goal to aim for, and people start to realize that these little steps help with fullness,” she says. 

Remember, incorporating fruits and veggies into your diet is only one part of a much bigger picture. “Just because you eat fruits and vegetables regularly doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer, and if you don't eat them, it doesn't mean you will,” Rissetto says. 

What This Means For You

Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet doesn't mean you won't get sick, and it isn't guaranteed prevention, but it will improve overall health and reduce the risk of serious illness.

If you don't feel comfortable in the kitchen, don't worry—there are lots of really simple ways to increase your intake of fruits and veggies. A good way to start is to eat one serving of fruits or vegetables at most meals and snacks.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wang DD, Li Y, Bhupathiraju SN, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies of US men and women and a meta-analysis of 26 cohort studies. Circulation. 2021. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Published December 2020.