"Try to add more fresh fruit, juice and a variety of vegetables in your diet to improve your health and reduce heart disease risks," urges LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Heli Roy. The USDA MyPyramid recommends 2 cups of fruits and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily.
A recent study published in the January 2003 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition" shows MyPyramid recommendations are right on target and should be followed for reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, according to the LSU AgCenter nutritionist.
The study examined the relationship of fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of cardiovascular deaths. It included 3,235 randomly selected men ages 42 through 60 years old. The subjects were interviewed for food intake. Data were collected on medical history, incidence of diabetes, hypertension, smoking, alcohol intake and medication.
A blood sample was taken, and a history of cardiovascular events, including death, was collected from 1984 through December 31, 2000.
The subjects were divided into five groups on fruit, berry and vegetable intake. The groups represented the number of fruits and vegetables consumed daily, ranging from one to four or more.
There was a clear reduction in incidence of cardiovascular-related mortality in the group with the highest intake of fruits, berries and vegetables compared to those who consumed only one serving a day. Death from cardiovascular-related, non-cardiovascular-related and overall mortality was reduced in the group with highest intake of fruits and vegetables.
Roy says a diet high in fruits and vegetables is high in protective antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C and A. Low vitamin C levels have been linked to increased risk of coronary events in men. Folate, a B vitamin obtained from fruits and vegetables, has been shown to reduce the incidence of heart disease by reducing blood homocysteine levels.
The LSU AgCenter nutritionist adds that fruits and vegetables are unique in that they contain chemicals called polyphenols, which act as antioxidants by preventing the oxidation of various circulating lipid particles. This helps to maintain healthy arteries.
Another chemical, lycopene, has been shown to protect against the development of atherosclerosis, a form of arteriosclerosis. Additionally, fruits and vegetables have soluble fiber, which has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. When blood cholesterol is reduced, there’s a reduced risk of arterial damage, deposits and hardening of arteries.
Other nutrients found in fruits, berries and vegetables are potassium and magnesium, which are thought to be beneficial in blood pressure regulation.
Roy says in many industrialized countries, cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of death. Many dietary components have been identified as having protective effects against cardiovascular disease. Some of these protective molecules are nutrients such as potassium, folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Non-nutritive substances such as fiber and phytochemicals have been identified as protective as well.
Dietary recommendations are for whole foods, and therefore, it is important in dietary intake studies to look at the intake of total quantity of fruits and vegetables rather than just individual components.