The World's Healthiest Foods

An Extra Fruit or Vegetable A Day Keeps the Heart Pumping Away

When researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health evaluated study data collected on more than 126,000 healthcare workers, they found that each additional daily serving of fruit or vegetables lowered coronary heart disease risk by 4%. Coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US, develops when arteries that carry blood to the heart become blocked by atherosclerotic plaques.

The study population-84,251 women 34 to 59 years of age who were followed for 14 years, and 42,148 men 40 to 75 years who were followed for 8 years-were all free of diagnosed cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes when the study began. During the study, however, 1127 women and 1063 men suffered either a nonfatal heart attack or died as a result of coronary heart disease.

Those with the lowest risk of heart disease were those who consumed the most green leafy vegetables and vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables. After adjustment for standard cardiovascular risk factors, persons who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a 20% lower risk for coronary heart disease compared with those who ate the least fruits and vegetables.

People who ate the most fruits and vegetables had healthier lifestyles overall and were less likely to smoke, but regardless of their vitamin use, exercise or smoking habits, the relationship between high fruit and vegetable intake and low risk of heart disease remained.

Not surprising since fruits and vegetables, particularly those whose nutrient-density qualifies them as members of the World's Healthiest Foods, contain many beneficial compounds that have been shown to reduce heart disease risk including fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants like vitamin E:nutrient,111]. In this study, green leafy vegetables-like spinach. In this study, green leafy vegetables-like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, mustard and turnip greens, and parsley-and vitamin C-rich fruits-such as oranges, strawberries, kiwi, papaya, and cantaloupe-appeared to contribute most to the protective effect fruits and vegetables conferred against coronary heart disease.

Increased fruit and vegetable consumption was also found to protect people with type 2 diabetes against heart attack, which is particularly significant since individuals with diabetes are at much higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Speizer FE, Colditz G, Ascherio A, Rosner B, Spiegelman D, Willett WC. The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease. Ann Intern Med 2001 Jun 19;134(12):1106-14