Weight Loss, Cancer Prevention and Health: Why Vegetables and Fruits Matter

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If you’ve been working hard to eat more broccoli or blueberries, headlines like “Fruits and vegetables don’t lead to weight loss, study says” can drive you crazy. You may wonder if it’s worth the effort. I certainly hear from people questioning whether they can trust any nutrition and weight loss messages when they see headlines like these.NAP-Plate-v02

Make no mistake about it, fruits and vegetables are a key part of a cancer-preventive diet. And they can play a role in getting to and staying a healthy weight – important for lowering risk for eight cancers and other chronic diseases. Even the authors of that recent study acknowledge that in their paper. So why the confusing messages?

Here’s what that study was about: The authors say that health organizations promote increasing veggies and fruit for weight loss without explaining the need to also decrease overall calories. So they looked for studies that tested the idea that simply adding vegetables and fruit to your diet will lead to weight loss.

They tried to find randomized control trials that lasted at least 8 weeks, included at least 15 subjects and focused on weight loss or maintenance. They found only 7 studies. Their analyses of these studies showed that increasing fruit and vegetables did not have a significant effect on body weight. The authors conclude that any recommendation to increase fruits and vegetables without explicitly explaining the need to reducing overall energy is not supported by evidence.

My take on this is that the researchers basic underlying premise – that messages to eat more veggies and fruit for healthy weight don’t address the need to also reduce calories – is wrong and misleading. They cite health organizations (like AICR) and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. But AICR, government and other major health organizations recommend eating more vegetables and fruit alongside recommendations to eat less of certain high calorie foods.

There is scientific value to this study because it shows the lack of quality studies in this area and the need for better understanding how vegetables and fruit affect hunger and satiety. We also need to know how we can reduce barriers like cost and access to these foods as well as how to prepare vegetables without adding a lot of extra calories from fat or sugar.

Americans are currently not even close to meeting the minimum recommendations for vegetable and fruit intake. These kinds of headlines damage the urgent public health message that diet does matter for health, that a plant-based diet promotes health and healthy weight and that health for children and adults depends on us eating more foods like carrots, tomatoes, berries, peaches and leafy greens.

AICR’s New American Plate is a model for healthy weight because you’ll replace many high calorie foods with lower calorie ones. By putting mostly unprocessed plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes on at least 2/3 of your plate and limiting animal foods to 1/3 or less, you can replace high fat meats and refined and processed foods that have added fat and sugar with fiber-rich vegetables for example, that have very few calories per bite.

To learn how to reshape your plate with delicicious fruits, vegetables and other plant foods, join the September 2014  New American Plate Challenge: 12 Weeks to a Healthier You that will help you eat smarter and move more for a healthy weight.


The authors of the study report receiving support and funding from Kraft Foods, Kellogg Company, Coca-Cola Company, World Sugar Research Organisation, Almond Board of California and Con Agra, among other companies.


    Author: Alice RD

    Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

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