Cancer Link Weak, But Still Eat Fruits and Vegetables


Don’t push aside that broccoli and banana just yet. Although a new study finds that a high intake of fruits and vegetables does not provide as strong a reduction in cancer risk as once believed, eating more fruits and vegetables daily is still recommended.

Twenty years ago, the World Health Organization issued a recommendation to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily as a way to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Since that time, a countless number of studies have looked at the impact of fruit and vegetable consumption on cancer risk, among other diseases.

The findings have generally shown that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits is associated with a reduction in blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, lower risk of digestive disorders and eye problems, help with weight reduction, and a positive impact on blood sugar, among other health benefits. However, no study has confirmed an association between consumption of fruits and vegetables and resistance to cancer.

In the new study, which is ongoing, researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine evaluated more than eight years of dietary and lifestyle data from 142,605 men and 335,873 women residing in western Europe. The individuals are participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, which is evaluating the relationships between the risk of cancer and consumption of fruits and vegetables.


During a mean follow-up of 8.7 years, more than 30,000 of the participants were diagnosed with cancer. Paolo Boffetta, MD, MPH, deputy director of The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai and the lead author of the study, and his team found that individuals who increased their intake of fruits and vegetables by 200 grams per day had a 3 percent reduced risk of cancer.

When the researchers looked at the impact of high fruit and vegetable consumption among people who drank high amounts of alcohol, the foods provided a reduced risk of cancer, but only for those associated with smoking and alcohol, including lung and liver cancers. An assessment of vegetable consumption alone revealed a modest reduction in cancer risk, but the benefit was limited to women.

Dr. Boffetta noted that while their evaluation found that fruits and vegetable consumption do protect against cancer, “it is a smaller connection than previously thought.” He went on to emphasize that “fruits and vegetables offer benefits for overall health” and that “the results of this study do not justify changing current recommendations aiming at increasing intake of these foods.”

Part of the effort to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables has recently been launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute in a program called “Fruits and Veggies More Matters.” Research results on the benefits of fruits and vegetables are also provided by many respected organizations; for example, the American Institute for Cancer Research, Harvard School of Public Health, the American Dietetic Association, Linus Pauling Institute, among others.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mount Sinai School of Medicine