Fruits & Vegetables
Are fruits and vegetables good for my heart?
There is a lot of research showing that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease. In the Women's Health Study, nearly 40,000 healthy female health professionals completed detailed food questionnaires and were followed for an average of 5 years.56 Those who ate the highest amounts of fruits and vegetables cut their risk of cardiovascular disease including stroke and heart attack by one third compared with women who ate the least amounts. Similarly, the Nurses' Health Study and the male Health Professionals Follow-up Study showed a 20% reduction in heart disease risk for men and women who ate the most fruits and vegetables.57
These health professionals ate far more fruits and vegetables than most Americans (more than 10 a day in one study). But research from more moderate fruit and veggie eaters also shows a benefit. A 19-year analysis of nearly 10,000 adults aged 25 to 74 found that eating 3 or more daily servings cut the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (especially stroke) by 27% compared with eating less than 1 serving per day.58
How do fruits and vegetables benefit the heart?
Most of the benefit seen for fruits and vegetables is explained by the fact that they help lower risk factors for heart disease (particularly blood pressure).59, 60 None of the studies mentioned above found that any single fruit or vegetable was better than another. For heart health, potatoes are not usually counted as vegetables because they have not been shown to lower heart disease (despite the name, sweet potatoes are not related to potatoes).56 Fruits and vegetables have many nutrients that may benefit the heart including folate, potassium, plant sterols (shown to lower cholesterol), and antioxidants such as vitamin C and flavonoids. They are also a good source of fiber. It's hard to pinpoint exactly how fruits and veggies work their magic because people who eat more fruits and vegetables also tend to lead a healthier lifestyle (e.g., they exercise more and are less likely to be overweight).
How much fruits and veggies should I eat?
A healthy diet should include 5 or more servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables—the majority of fruit should be whole fruit rather than juice.2 Potatoes don't usually count for heart health; they are considered more of a starch. Although no single fruit or veggie is clearly better than any other, the American Heart Association recommends deep-colored produce (e.g., spinach, carrots, peaches, berries) over plainer varieties (e.g., corn) because they tend to have more vitamins and minerals.3 In 2003, only 27% of women and 18% of men ate 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily (not counting fried potatoes).61
A typical serving of fruit is 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice, 1 medium fruit, a quarter cup of dried fruit, or half a cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit. For vegetables, a serving is 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables or half a cup of cooked vegetables.