Debate

Vegetables can actually prevent disease

Once you start looking into how much food can affect your health, it’s easy to get hopelessly confused. At first glance, it appears that experts disagree about almost everything?

One day you might read that milk is harmful and that the Swedish National Food Agency has changed its dairy recommendations; the next day you may find an article about how much nutrition milk contains and how it is vital for our bodies.

Or to take another example: many nutritionists will tell you to remove gluten from your diet; others argue that the gluten-free trend is just a fad that is not supported by science. And on it goes.

But do these differing opinions, which were all on display in the recent debate on SVT (Swedish Television) ”Opinion” mean that, as Giles Yeo says, ”Food-as-Medicine” statements are based on pseudoscience that degrades truth and fact? The answer is no. It’s not about pseudoscience.

Though it’s true that researchers do not agree on all the ”details,” they are united on some very important overall conclusions. Most notably: a large, varied intake of vegetables every day is important for our health and, in fact, can prevent disease.

There’s a lot of telling research in this field. An exceptionally interesting recent study from Imperial College London shows that eating 800 grams of fruit and vegetables every day can reduce the risk of dying prematurely.

According to the study, 7.8 million deaths could be prevented each year if every individual consumed 10 fruits and/or vegetables per day.

The study also demonstrates that overall health improves the closer you get to 800 grams per day. For instance, eating just 200 grams per day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 13 percent, while eating 800 grams of fruits and vegetables per day reduces the risk by 28 percent, compared to eating no fruits or vegetables at all.

Another significant result of eating lots of fruits and vegetables is that your cholesterol levels and blood pressure are both lowered, and, according to the study, the risk of damage to DNA and the risk of cancer also decrease.

It’s easy to despair when it seems like you only ever hear from one extreme or the other – the ”blueberries can cure cancer” crowd or the ”food as medicine” skeptics. We tend to focus on the details of disagreement and forget that both parties still agree on many issues – including the positive correlation between a largely vegetable diet and good health.

It’s important that researchers continue to debate and figure out exact scientific relationships, but if the reporting is not done properly, we run the risk of internalizing the idea that no consensus exists among scientists, and that there is no evidence at all to prove that what we eat affects us both physically and mentally.

And that would be a pity, especially for our health.

The text above was published on SVT Opinion yesterday.

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