Back to food CoOp | Back to Best Results Academy | PayNowPage | Sign Up | Choose Food Page | Contact Page | Business Opportunity
Vegetables, Fruits, and Cardiovascular Disease
There is compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The largest and longest study to date, done as part of the Harvard-based Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, included almost 110,000 men and women whose health and dietary habits were followed for 14 years. The higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Compared with those in the lowest category of fruit and vegetable intake (less than 1.5 servings a day), those who averaged 8 or more servings a day were 30 percent less likely to have had a heart attack or stroke. (2) Although all fruits and vegetables likely contribute to this benefit, green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens; cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and kale; and citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit (and their juices) make important contributions. (2)
When researchers combined findings from the Harvard studies with several other long-term studies in the U.S. and Europe, and looked at coronary heart disease and stroke separately, they found a similar protective effect: Individuals who ate more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per had roughly a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease (3) and stroke, (4) compared with individuals who ate less than 3 servings per day.
Vegetables, Fruits, and Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a primary risk factor for heart disease and stroke. As such, it's a condition that is important to control. Diet can be a very effective tool for lowering blood pressure. One of the most convincing associations between diet and blood pressure was found in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study. (5)
This trial examined the effect on blood pressure of a diet that was rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and that restricted the amount of saturated and total fat. The researchers found that people with high blood pressure who followed this diet reduced their systolic blood pressure (the upper number of a blood pressure reading) by about 11 mm Hg and their diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) by almost 6 mm Hg—as much as medications can achieve.
More recently, a randomized trial known as the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart) showed that this fruit and vegetable-rich diet lowered blood pressure even more when some of the carbohydrate was replaced with healthy unsaturated fat or protein. (6)
Vegetables, Fruits, and Cancer
Numerous early studies revealed what appeared to be a strong link between eating fruits and vegetables and protection against cancer. But because many of these were case-control studies, where people who already have a certain health outcome (cases) are compared to people who do not have that outcome (controls), it is possible that the results may have been skewed by problems inherent in these types of studies; people with illnesses, for example, often recall past behaviors differently from those without illness, which can lead to potential inaccuracy in the information that they provide to study investigators.
Cohort studies, which follow large groups of initially healthy individuals for years, generally provide more reliable information than case-control studies because they don't rely on information from the past. And data from cohort studies have not consistently shown that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables prevents cancer in general. For example, in the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, over a 14-year period, men and women with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables (8+ servings a day) were just as likely to have developed cancer as those who ate the fewest daily servings (under 1.5). (2)
A more likely possibility is that some types of fruits and vegetables may protect against certain cancers. A massive report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that non-starchy vegetables—such as lettuce and other leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, as well as garlic, onions, and the like—and fruits "probably" protect against several types of cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, and stomach; fruit probably also protects against lung cancer. (7)
Specific components of fruits and vegetables may also be protective against cancer. For example, a line of research stemming from a finding from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study suggests that tomatoes may help protect men against prostate cancer, especially aggressive forms of it. (8) One of the pigments that give tomatoes their red hue—lycopene—could be involved in this protective effect. Although several studies other than the Health Professionals study have also demonstrated a link between tomatoes or lycopene and prostate cancer, others have not or have found only a weak connection. (9) Taken as a whole, however, these studies suggest that increased consumption of tomato-based products (especially cooked tomato products) and other lycopene-containing foods may reduce the occurrence of prostate cancer. (7) Lycopene is one of several carotenoids (compounds that the body can turn into vitamin A) found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and research suggests that foods containing carotenoids may protect against lung, mouth, and throat cancer. (7) But more research is needed before we know the exact relationship between fruits and vegetables, carotenoids, and cancer.
Vegetables, Fruits, and Gastrointestinal Health
One of the wonderful components of fruits and vegetables is their indigestible fiber. As fiber passes through the digestive system, it sops up water like a sponge and expands. This can calm the irritable bowel and, by triggering regular bowel movements, can relieve or prevent constipation. (10) The bulking and softening action of insoluble fiber also decreases pressure inside the intestinal tract and so may help prevent diverticulosis (the development of tiny, easily irritated pouches inside the colon) and diverticulitis (the often painful inflammation of these pouches). (11)
Vegetables, Fruits, and Vision
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables also keeps your eyes in good shape. You may have learned that the vitamin A in carrots aids night vision. Other fruits and vegetables help prevent two common aging-related eye diseases—cataract and macular degeneration—which afflict millions of Americans over age 65. Cataract is the gradual clouding of the eye's lens, a disk of protein that focuses light on the light-sensitive retina. Macular degeneration is caused by cumulative damage to the macula, the center of the retina. It starts as a blurred spot in the center of what you see. As the degeneration spreads, vision shrinks.
Free radicals generated by sunlight, cigarette smoke, air pollution, infection, and metabolism cause much of this damage. Dark green leafy vegetables—such as spinach and kale—contain two pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin, that accumulate in the eye; these pigments are found in other brightly colored fruits and vegetables as well, including corn, squash, kiwi, and grapes. (12) These two pigments appear to be able to snuff out free radicals before they can harm the eye's sensitive tissues. (13)
In general, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables appears to reduce the chances of developing cataract or macular degeneration. (14–17) Lutein and zeaxanthin, in particular, seem protective against cataract. (18)
The Bottom Line: Recommendations for Vegetable and Fruit Intake
Vegetables and fruits are clearly an important part of a good diet. Almost everyone can benefit from eating more of them, but variety is as important as quantity. No single fruit or vegetable provides all of the nutrients you need to be healthy. The key lies in the variety of different vegetables and fruits that you eat.
- Keep fruit out where you can see it. That way you'll be more likely to eat it. Keep it out on the counter or in the front of the fridge.
- Get some every meal, every day. Try filling half your plate with vegetables or fruit at each meal. Serving up salads, stir fry, or other fruit and vegetable-rich fare makes it easier to reach this goal. Bonus points if you can get some fruits and vegetables at snack time, too.
- Explore the produce aisle and choose something new. Variety is the key to a healthy diet. Get out of a rut and try some new fruits and vegetables—include dark green leafy vegetables; yellow, orange, and red fruits and vegetables; cooked tomatoes; and citrus fruits.
- Bag the potatoes. Choose other vegetables that are packed with more nutrients and more slowly digested carbs.
- Make it a meal. Try some new recipes where vegetables take center stage, such as Tunisian carrot salad and spicy broccolini with red pepper.