Sunday, May 13, 2007

Should we promote fruits and vegetables?

In yesterday’s edition of ‘De Volkskrant’, a leading national newspaper in the Netherlands, professor Martijn Katan posited that fruit is an overrated icon of healthful nutrition (see for the article with additional background information). Martijn Katan is professor of nutrition at the Institute of Health Sciences of the VU University Amsterdam.

Katan describes how fruit came to be one of the foods to be promoted by nutrition educators: based on observational studies preliminary evidence indicated that high intakes of fruit contributed to cancer prevention. However, more recent more robust studies indicate that the inverse association between fruit intake and cancer risk is much weaker than the initial studies suggested. Furthermore, Katan describes that fruit juice may contribute to tooth decay and overweight among youth similarly as soft drinks may do: fruit juice contains similar amounts of sugar and has a similarly low PH value.

Fruit and vegetable may on the other hand contribute to obesity prevention because fruits and vegetables have a lower energy density than many other foods. If children eat fruit and vegetables instead of chocolate bars, cookies, savoury snacks and other ‘junk foods’, fruit and vegetable intake may lead to lower energy intake, but there is not yet convincing evidence available to support this.

Nevertheless, most nutrition authorities across Europe think that the evidence for the health promoting properties of fruits and vegetables is still strong enough to include fruits and vegetables promotion in their official dietary recommendations. Later this year the World Cancer Research Fund will publish their new comprehensive report on nutrition and cancer risk, which will include the latest reviews of the scientific literature on fruits, vegetables and cancer risk.

For information on a cross-European project to promote fruits and vegetables among schoolchildren: see