By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Probably for as long as you can remember, you’ve heard nutritional experts, and maybe even your own doctor, talk about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables. I often nagged my patients to get on the fruit and vegetable bandwagon because these foods are packed with natural and essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidant compounds. Such ingredients are vital for not just cardiovascular health, but overall health as well.
The standard USDA recommendation is 2-4 servings of fruit daily and 3-5 servings of vegetables. The dietary surveys I did among my patients typically turned up gross shortfalls. Simply not enough.
The research makes it clear that rectifying the shortfall can make a big difference. According to the World Health Organization, up to 2.7 million lives could be saved annually with sufficient fruit and vegetable consumption. Non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, diabetes, obesity, and cancer account for about 60 percent of the deaths each year in the world and insufficient consumption of fruit and vegetables is among the five leading causes. Low intake contributes to about 31 percent of heart disease and 11 percent of stroke.
In my medical practice I put great emphasis on a healthy diet and gave patients lists of foods that I regarded as the healthiest and most healing. You’ll can find my most updated list with details on each food item here on the website. Among them are quite a few fruits and vegetables: asparagus, avocado, blueberries, broccoli, garlic, onions, pomegranate, Spinach, and seaweed.
In 2013, researchers from Singapore and Harvard published a study (Bhupathiraju, et. al) in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzing intake of specific fruits and vegetables and the risk of coronary heart disease. To get an idea of what might be potent disease-preventing foods, they looked at dietary surveys over decades that were part of two large databases involving more than 71,000 women and 42,000 men. The analysis indicated that a higher intake, compared to low intake, was associated with a 17 percent lower risk. Specifically, citrus fruit (high in vitamin C) and green leafy vegetables (high in beta carotene and also vitamin C) were among the most potent items.
What’s good for your heart is usually good for your brain as well. In this case, a 2006 study (Morris, et. al) of Chicago seniors who were followed over a six-year period concluded that green leafy vegetables, and in particular, spinach, kale and collards, appeared to be the most beneficial in preserving mental sharpness. Individuals who ate more of them scored higher on a variety of mental and memory tests than those who ate few or none.
One of the most convincing studies I ever saw on the subject of fruits and vegetables was conducted in Sweden and also published in 2013 in the same nutritional journal (Bellavia, et. al). In this study, researchers crunched the numbers on lifestyle questionnaires filled out over thirteen years by more than 71,000 Swedish men and women. They found that those who ate no fruits and vegetables died on average three years sooner than those who ate five servings a day! If that doesn’t get a produce avoider’s attention, I don’t know what will. Even the difference between five servings and three a day was significant – 32 months! For more details on the study, check out this Health News You Can Use story.
We all want to live longer, with less risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. Making fruits and vegetables a major part of your regular diet is really a simple way to support the goal. Whatever fruits and vegetables you prefer, try as much as possible to choose organic, so as to avoid toxic residues from pesticides and other commercially-used produce chemicals.
Want to eat healthfully at home but aren’t sure where or how to start? Watch my What’s Cooking? video series! In it, my son, Step, and I show you how to prepare our favorite heart-healthy meals, snacks and drinks while explaining the health benefits associated with consuming them.
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References and Resources:
- USDA Food Guide Pyramid, Health.gov, accessed May 12, 2014.
- World Health Organization. Fruit and Vegetable Promotion Initiative / A Meeting Report / 25-27/08/03.Who.int., accessed May 12, 2014.
- Bhupathiraju SN, Wedick NM, et. al. Quantity and variety in fruit and vegetable intake and risk of coronary heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr, Dec 2013;98:6(1514-1523).
- Morris MC, Evans DA, et. al. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology, Oct. 24, 2006;6:8(1370-1376).
- Bellavia A, Larsson SC, et. al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause mortality: a dose-response analysis. Am J Clin Nutr, Aug. 201.
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