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EPIC Study

The role of fruit and vegetable consumption in preventing cancer.

September 8, 2010 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to Ali Karimian.


What about this, though? Fruits and vegetables have little effect? Eating veggies doesn’t stop cancer? Here’s the study they’re talking about. Fruit and vegetable intake and overall cancer risk in the EPIC study. Here’s the data.
For those unfamiliar with the metric system, a large apple officially weighs 223 grams. So, compared to people eating about less than an apple a day, those who ate one or more had a 5% decrease in overall cancer risk across the board. And those who ate the most fruits and vegetables had 11% lower risk.
Here’s the conclusion: the study supports the notion of a modest cancer preventive effect of high intake of fruits and vegetables. But what about those headlines? They made it sound like fruits and veggies didn’t offer any protection. It’s not that fruits and vegetables didn’t prevent cancer in the study, it’s just how “modest” the preventive effect was.
The bottomline is we can’t eat a standard Western diet and just add a few fruits and vegetables and expect to be cancer-proof. We have to fundamentally change our diets.
Still, even if we’re living off burgers and doughnuts, a 5% drop in overall cancer risk means that an apple a day may keep 1 in 20 cancers away. That’s, not too bad—I mean how much does an apple cost? One and a half million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year. This study suggests that if we all ate lots of fruits and vegetables 168,000 cancers could be prevented every year in the United States. 168,000 cancers. If that’s modest, I’ll take it.
And they were counting like iceburg lettuce as a vegetable. It would have been interesting to see what some of the more powerful fruits and vegetables could do—berries, citrus, garlic, greens. And of course there’s lots of other health reasons to eat fruits and vegetables besides just cancer.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on cancer. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Breast Cancer Stem Cells vs. BroccoliFighting Inflammation With Food Synergy, and Poultry Paunch: Meat & Weight Gain.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on cancer. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • momomentous

    Hi Dr Greger – I really enjoy your site and the nice little video summaries – they provide a lot of clarification of complex issues. I of course found you via PCRM and Neil Barnard who I strongly admire.

    COMMENT: I noticed that the 5th quintile represented greater or equal to 647 grams per day of fruits and vegetables. Does this include water weight and fiber weight? Measuring by weight alone does seem pretty inaccurate since most of us think in terms of volume when we track and analyze our diets – ie grams and cups and ounces.

    Most nutrition and calorie charts and sites track by “grams of pinto beans” etc. Plus there is so much fiber and water weight in fruits and veggies. The amount of water in fruits and veggies seems to range from 80 to 96% according to one chart I just found (

    CALCULATION: So, if you for a moment assumed that 647 grams by weight of veggies and fruit intake contained all carbs and proteins at 4 cals per gram for example (and NO fiber or water or fats weight – to make the calculation a little easier) – that would equal about 2500 calories per day food intake from 647 grams of pure “carbs and protein” food. (Again this is just for discussion sake).

    Remove 80% water content from this calculation (not to mention the fiber weight) – and that is only about 700 calories of carbs in 647 grams of veggies and fruits – if you know what I mean. I’m eating a vegan diet and am taking in about 2000 calories per day and my weight is stable. So I am ballparking that I’m probably taking in about 3 times the 647 “gross” grams per day of food – just to get to the 2000 calories per day. So this amounts to about 1950 grams per day of fruits and veggies, since that is all I eat as a vegan. Does this make sense?

    MY QUESTION IS: how does this 647 grams of fruits and veggies per day translate into an all vegan diet? How many grams per day does a vegan taking in 2000 calories per day amount to? Any studies regarding this much higher level of intake – amounting to 647 x 3 – approx 1950 grams per day – or 69 ounces of fruits and veggies – or roughly 4.3 lbs per day? Wow – that is a lot of weight but probably a good approximation of my total food intake by weight daily. Do my numbers make sense here? About 4.3 lbs per day by weight of food intake for 2000 vegan calories daily.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please also check out my associated blog post Fighting Inflammation with Food Synergy

  • megan

    Do you have any specific information on a high carb, low fat, raw vegan diet for weight loss and overall health? Like the one suggested by Dr. Douglas Graham’s “80 10 10″? If not, I would love to see the information.

  • Liz

    But don’t studies point to that vegetarians vs. healthy omnivores in general have pretty much the same all cause mortality pretty much, except one or two things?

    • Liz

      Sorry repeated a word there twice

  • puzzled

    EPIC Failure? I am puzzled about the EPIC result that prostate cancer was not influenced by fruit and vegetable consumption, and the poor showing in general of vegetables and fruits as indicated by the hazard ratios. This makes me suspect there is a significant methodological problem with EPIC as I have reviewed a lot of research which suggests substance in plant foods inhibit prostate cancer growth, including the small Ornish study. Also at odds with in vitro work which suggest profound effects of plants on cancer cell proliferation

    This 2012 study presents interesting statistics – “Vegetarian Diets and the Incidence of Cancer in a Low-risk Population” Yessenia Tantamango-Bartley et al, and shows an HR of about 0.8 for vegans with respect to male cancers (penis, prostate, testes)