A new study among AARP members shows that just one additional serving of fruit and vegetables per day may lower your risk of head and neck cancer, but the data suggest that you may not want to stop at just one, according to researchers from the National Cancer Institute.
A large prospective study of 500,000 men and women aged 50 and older has found that those who ate more fruit and vegetables had a reduced risk of head and neck cancer.
Head and neck cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide, resulting in more than 350,000 deaths annually.
“Identifying protective factors for head and neck cancer is particularly important as it has a high mortality rate,” said Neal Freedman, Ph.D., cancer prevention fellow at the National Cancer Institute.
At the beginning of the study, participants reported their typical dietary habits on a food frequency questionnaire. Freedman and his colleagues followed participants for five years and recorded all diagnoses of head and neck cancer cases during this time.
In their findings, the researchers report that participants who ate six servings of fruit and vegetables per day per 1000 calories had 29 percent less risk for head and neck cancer than did participants who consumed one and a half servings per 1000 calories per day. Typically, adults consume approximately 2000 calories per day. One serving equals approximately one medium sized fresh fruit, one half cup of cut fruit, six ounces fruit juice, one cup leafy vegetables, or one half cup of other vegetables.
“Increasing consumption by just one serving of fruit or vegetables per 1000 calories per day was associated with a six percent reduction in head and neck cancer risk,” Freedman said.
According to Freedman, people who ate a lot of fruit also tended to eat a lot of vegetables, and vice versa. To measure these two types of foods independently, the researchers included both fruit and vegetable intake in the statistical models, a common statistical approach. This allowed them to compare participants with different levels of fruit consumption while holding constant the level of vegetable intake and vice versa. When examining fruit and vegetable intake simultaneously, the protective association with vegetables seemed to be stronger than the association with fruits.
“Although we cannot absolutely rule out a cancer preventive role for other lifestyle factors that go along with eating more fruits and vegetables, our results are consistent with those from previous studies,” Freedman said. “Our study suggests that fruit and vegetable consumption may protect against head and neck cancer and adds support to current dietary recommendations to increase fruit and vegetable consumption.”