"People in general don't even consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables," she said. "Instead of focusing on 'is consuming too much not providing additional benefit,' we should be talking about how to get people to eat the recommended amount, given that there are proven health benefits shown in this very study."
For the review, a team of researchers in China and the United States analyzed the results of 16 studies to gain better understanding of the association between fruits and veggies and a person's risk of death. These studies involved more than 830,000 people in total, and more than 56,000 deaths.
The investigators found a link between eating fruits and vegetables and a lower risk of death overall during the study follow-up periods, as well as a reduced risk of death from heart disease. However, fruits and vegetables did not seem to have any effect on a person's specific risk of death from cancer.
Fruits and vegetables contain a broad variety of essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients but not a load of calories, Hu and Dubost said. Chowing down on them allows a person to get much of the nutrition they need without risking weight gain, they noted.
Fruits and vegetables also are a major source of dietary fiber. "Fiber obviously helps with a healthier gut and moves things through the system," Dubost said. "It also can help with weight loss and reduce heart disease."
What about vegetarians? Even if the benefits of fruits and vegetables level off after five daily servings, that does not necessarily mean that vegetarians are less healthy than people who eat meat, both Hu and Dubost said.
Hu noted that in reviewing the benefits of a vegetarian diet, you also have to consider the health benefits of decreased consumption of meat -- something his study did not review.
"The potential of vegetarian diets could be due to a combination of both," he said.
The report was published online July 29 in BMJ.