In this review of the scientific literature on the relationship between vegetable and fruit consumption and risk of cancer, results from 206 human epidemiologic studies and 22 animal studies are summarized. The evidence for a protective effect of greater vegetable and fruit consumption is consistent for cancers of the stomach, esophagus, lung, oral cavity and pharynx, endometrium, pancreas, and colon. The types of vegetables or fruit that most often appear to be protective against cancer are raw vegetables, followed by allium vegetables, carrots, green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and tomatoes. Substances present in vegetables and fruit that may help protect against cancer, and their mechanisms, are also briefly reviewed; these include dithiolthiones, isothiocyanates, indole-3-carbinol, allium compounds, isoflavones, protease inhibitors, saponins, phytosterols, inositol hexaphosphate, vitamin C, D-limonene, lutein, folic acid, beta carotene, lycopene, selenium, vitamin E, flavonoids, and dietary fiber. Current US vegetable and fruit intake, which averages about 3.4 servings per day, is discussed, as are possible noncancer-related effects of increased vegetable and fruit consumption, including benefits against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, diverticulosis, and cataracts. Suggestions for dietitians to use in counseling persons toward increasing vegetable and fruit intake are presented.