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Higher Fruit and Veggie Intake via 'Produce Prescription' Program Boosts Health and Well-Being, Study Finds

Consuming more produce was linked to reduced the risk of future health problems in these participants.

<p>Natalia Samorodskaia/Getty Images</p>

Natalia Samorodskaia/Getty Images

Healthcare and research are placing more value than ever on nutrition as a key lifestyle factor in the prevention and/or improvement of chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. And a new study shows promising signs that it's working.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, 3,881 people from low-income neighborhoods across the U.S. received, on average, $63 per month to buy more fruit and vegetables from local grocery stores or farmer’s markets.

The results, published in the Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes showed that program participants ate about 30 percent more produce a day: On average, about .85 more cups of fruit and vegetables for adults, and .26 more cups for children. Overall, participants experienced decreased blood sugar, body mass index, and blood pressure.

“We know that food insecurity impacts health through several important pathways, including overall dietary quality, but also through stress and anxiety, mental health and tradeoffs between paying for food and other basic needs such as housing costs, utilities, and medications,” Kurt Hager, PhD, an author of the study and an instructor at UMass Chan Medical School in Massachusetts, said in a press statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should consume 1.5 to 2 cups of fruits and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily. However, economic factors, such as food insecurity and lack of access, may make this hard for some. This study shows that 'produce prescriptions' if prescribed in more areas by more doctors, could have long-lasting positive effects.

Related: The FDA Wants to Change What Qualifies as “Healthy” Food—An R.D. Explains What That Means for You

Upping your fruit and vegetable intake boosts your consumption of crucial macro- and micronutrients that provide energy, help your system thrive, fight disease and inflammation, and so much more. Fruits of all varieties provide gut- and heart-healthy fiber; antioxidants, plant compounds, vitamins, and minerals for a high-functioning immune system, brain health, and so much more; and they're also healthy sources of complex carbohydrates. Veggies, too, are equally fundamental sources of these much-needed, health-boosting nutrients. Whether leafy greens, beans and lentils, cruciferous (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy), alliums (garlic, onions, shallots), potatoes, or mushrooms—each is a uniquely rich source of disease-fighting compounds, fiber, key minerals—and some even provide a satisfying hit of plant-based protein.

Regarding the study, it makes logical sense that going from eating very few fruits and vegetables to eating roughly 30 percent more produce than usual would lower participants' risk for diseases and cause a decrease in harmful health factors, including "clinically relevant improvements in glycated hemoglobin, blood pressure, and BMI for adults with poor cardiometabolic health," per the study's abstract.

The more access to fruits and vegetables for all—regardless of socioeconomic status—the better off we'll be.

Related: A Diet Low in 6 Key Foods Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds

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