Human Health Effects of Fruit & Vegetables

Looking at the Value of Fruit & Vegetables in Disease Prevention

Skin Science Reporter recently interviewed Dr Hazel MacTavish-West, a senior phyto-chemist and advisor to Yin Yang Skincare, on her return from the 3rd International Symposium on Human Health Effects of Fruit and Vegetables, held in Avignon, France, between 18th and 21st October.

Some 250 delegates attended and presented papers from more than 20 countries around the World, including from the US, Southern America, India and Europe.  Around 75% of delegates were academics, including economists, nutritionists, medical experts, phyto-chemists, physiologists and biochemists, with the other 25% representing industrial groups.

Topics covered included the value of fruit & vegetables in the human diet for disease prevention, the phyto-chemic properties to be found in fruit & vegetables and their associated benefits for human health, new technologies and food, agriculture & health policy.

More Than a Third of Cancers May be Preventable with Improvements to Diet

Skin Science Reporter (SSR): Dr MacTavish-West what important messages did you bring away from the Symposium?

Dr MacTavish-West (DRMT-W): Did you know that studies indicate that somewhere in the range of 27%-39% of cancers may be preventable simply by following a diet rich in fruit and vegetables?

SSR: It is not really surprising I guess, given that Humanity’s natural diet during our evolutionary period would have been very rich in fruits and vegetable components, and far lighter on processed carbohydrates, animal fats and proteins than the modern diet.

Simple Dietary Changes Could Make a Big Difference in Disease Prevention

DRMT-W: Yes - and in fact a French study indicated that for around 50% of people nutritionally adequate diets could be achieved by changing less than 4 foods. The foods most often lacking and required were shown to be: unsalted nuts, dried fruits, legumes and oily fish. Red meats, processed meats, and cheese needed to be reduced.

DRMT-W: Research indicates that we should be eating around 600g of fruit & vegetables per day to make an impact on preventable diseases with the use of diet. That is in line with the “5 a day” message of the UK Health Authorities.

SSR: We weighed an apple, orange, banana, avocado and medium tomato, and the scales topped 700 grams, so it is not too difficult to hit this target.

UK Adult Consumption of “5 a Day” Falls Way Short of Guidance

DRMT-W: You say that, but the Symposium revealed that the average UK adult consumes only 2.8 portions of fruit & vegetables per day!

SSR: It is surprising that the fruit & vegetable message needs selling when these foods have the potential to make life both healthier and longer?

DRMT-W: You would think so, but it is complex. In the popular media there is so much conflicting evidence – people get confused. It was suggested by one delegate that the health message for fruit and vegetables in the diet might be usefully communicated in popular entertainment programmes – in formats that people are comfortable with and which they trust. But on a positive note, apparently children have a natural fondness for red berries, bananas, yellow fruits like peaches and apricots: any fruits which are energy dense, red in colour and sweet. Oh, and carrots as well.

SSR: Just as you commented about children liking sweet energy dense fruits, most adults have a liking for some fruits or fruit products?

DRMT-W: Yes, fruit juice is a good example …it is known to be intrinsically healthy and yet it is not subject to loads of health propaganda. Older people and women however, have been shown to be more likely to accept ‘healthier’ but less tasty juices in the presence of health guidance.

Potential Value of Cabbage Family in Cancer Prevention

SSR: Different times, different health concerns: we seem to be more concerned today about cancer than say heart disease. Was there any reference to the benefit of fruit & vegetables on the basis of specific health risks?

DRMT-W: Research carried out in the UK suggests that the data supporting fruit & vegetable consumption and an associated reduction in cardiovascular disease risk, is far stronger than for cancer prevention, except for cruciferous vegetables [brassicas: cabbages, brussel sprouts, broccoli for example]. Cruciferous vegetables are widely considered to be healthful foods as they are high in vitamin C and soluble fibre and are thought to contain multiple nutrients with potent anti-cancer properties. There is evidence to suggest that eating broccoli more than once a week decreases the risk of prostate cancer risk by 50% as compared with eating it less than once per month.

Organic Versus Conventional Food Debate

SSR: You commented earlier that people get confused with all the conflicting evidence and opinion appearing in the media. Did the Symposium comment on the ongoing debate about the value of organic fruit and vegetables versus conventionally grown products?

DRMT-W:  Yes this did come up from time to time. Rigorous studies of conventionally versus organically produced tomatoes, showed year on year higher levels of ascorbic acid [vitamin C], and flavonoids in organic produce, and higher nitrates in conventional produce.

SSR: Hazel, what are your conclusions coming away from this Symposium?


1. Eat more fruit & vegetables
2. Eat 30g nuts per day
3.  A change in diet won’t cure existing health problems but it may prevent these occurring in the first place.
4. That cancer is less supported and discussed now in terms of effects of fruit & vegetable consumption than cardiovascular health, and perhaps more investigation should be done on the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables for cancer prevention?

SSR: Thank you Hazel.

Fresh Fruit & Vegetables Should Form Part of The Skincare Routine

The evidence from the recent Symposium in Avignon is clear: a healthy diet is essential to maintain optimum health. The health of the skin, the body’s largest organ, will also reflect the benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Diet needs to be a component of the skincare routine along with thorough daily cleansing, safeguarding the acid tone of the skin, and using a suitable moisturiser to protect your skin from dry environmental conditions