Up to 30 percent of certain types of cancer could be prevented by eating proper amount of vegetables and fruits, according to scientific studies. However, Hungary has a poor record in both areas, especially in terms of vegetable consumption, in which it lags behind the entire European Union.
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO)’s 2013 worldwide study has shown that 2.7 million people die each year from consuming inadequately low amount of vegetables and fruits. Low consumption of these food items is among the top 10 risk factors. When consumed as part of a daily diet, fruits and vegetables can help prevent some non-contagious diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Consuming a variety of vegetables and fruits clearly provides the most micronutrients, dietary fiber, and many essential nutrients. An above-average consumption of fruit and vegetables can help eliminate saturated fat, sugar, or salt.
Worldwide, low consumption of fruit and vegetables causes 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancer, 31 percent of ischemic heart diseases and 11 percent (pg 14.) of strokes. Estimates of current levels of fruit and vegetable intake vary significantly worldwide, less than 100 g / day in less developed countries and around 450 g / day in western Europe.
We focus on Eurostat data to determine how much fruit and vegetables are consumed in EU member states. Fresh and frozen products were included in the survey. We ranked the countries by combining statistics on the two food types and looked at the percentage of the population that eats fruit and vegetables every day.
In terms of fruit, the EU average is 64 percent, and unsurprisingly the southern states are in the top three: Italy (85 percent), Portugal (81 percent), and Spain (77 percent). Ten countries are above or above the EU average, while the vast majority is below it. The worst three places in the list are Lithuania (37 percent), Bulgaria (37 percent) and Latvia (35 percent), but Hungary is not too good either: Hungarians rank 25th, with only 40 percent eating daily at least once some type of fruit.
It is also worth looking at the proportion of Europeans who miss out on fruit in their diet. Well, there is no such thing among the Spaniards, but very few among the Croatians and Romanians, 0.5 per cent of the population that don’t eat fruit at all. The EU average is 1.6 percent, while the Hungarian value is above 1.9 percent. The Belgians and the British are the worst performers in this area, with 4 percent of their population never consuming fruit.
The WHO / FAO Joint Expert Consultation Report on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases states that at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day are needed to prevent, for example, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. The report also concludes that there is convincing evidence that fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of obesity and are likely to reduce the risk of diabetes.
We analysed vegetable consumption the same way as with fruits. The first figure is already showing similarities: as many as 64 percent of EU citizens consume vegetables once or several times a day. However, the top two places in the list are no longer southern states but Belgium and Ireland, with 84 percent of their population eating vegetables every day. Italy is the third country with 80 percent, followed by the Portuguese with 78 percent. There are 12 countries on the EU average or above. Hungary has the worst results, with only 30 percent of its population eating vegetables on a daily basis. Following Hungarians are Romanians (41 percent) and the Latvians (44 percent). Even in this category, only the Spaniards can say that there is no one who has never eaten vegetables, only 0.2 percent of Lithuanians and Croatians missed out on veggies. There are only five countries where the share of non-consumers of vegetables is above 1 percent: Hungary (1.5 percent) is in this group, but Malta is the negative leader with 3.3 percent.
A high-level international review of fruit and vegetable consumption and cancer risk, coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), concluded that eating fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. The IARC estimates that 5 to 12 percent of fruit and vegetable intake could prevent cancer, but for upper gastrointestinal cancers, this figure is between 20 and 30 percent worldwide.
Various campaigns have been launched in most member states, including Hungary, to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables. In addition, the EU is working to promote healthy eating starting in childhood, such as the EU’s fruits, vegetables and milk in schools schemes. Launched last year, the program provides EUR 150 million for fruit and vegetables each school year and EUR 100 million for milk and other dairy products.