Fruits and Vegetables May Offer Only Modest Protection Against Cancer

Posted on April 9th, 2010 by

A diet high in fruits and vegetable may offer only modest protection against developing cancer, according to results from a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.[1]

Studies have suggested that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer. Many major health organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to prevent cancer and other diseases. However, despite widely held beliefs and guidelines, many studies have failed to establish conclusive links between fruit and vegetable intake and reduced risk of cancer.

To further evaluate whether a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce cancer risk, researchers in Europe analyzed data from European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. Study participants included 142,605 men and 335,873 women. Fruit and vegetable intake and cancer incidence and mortality were assessed among participants from 1992 through 2000.

  • For fruits and vegetables combined, a 200 g/day increase in intake (about two extra servings) was linked with a 4% decrease in risk of cancer.
  • Fruit intake had a somewhat weaker effect on cancer risk than vegetable intake.
  • A greater benefit of fruits and vegetables was observed among heavy drinkers; in this population, higher fruit and vegetable intake reduced the risk of smoking- and alcohol-related cancers.

The researchers concluded that, at best, increased intake of fruits and vegetables can only modestly decrease overall risk of developing cancer. An accompanying editorial, however, states that because a diet rich in fruits and vegetables may also decrease risk of coronary heart disease and stroke while lowering blood pressure, “actions to increase intake of fruits and vegetables have a sound basis.”[2] In other words, although fruits and vegetables may only modestly lower cancer risk, such a diet still has important health benefits.


[1] Boffetta P, Couto E, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Overall Cancer Risk in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Journal of the National Cancer Institute [early online publication]. April 6, 2010.

[2] Walter C. Willett. Fruits, Vegetables, and Cancer Prevention: Turmoil in the Produce Section. Journal of the National Cancer Institute [early online publication]. April 6, 2010.


Tags: UNM CC Features

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