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Mar 29, 2014

Fruits and Vegetables Help Lower Heart Attack Risk Later in Life

Women who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables during their 20s have healthier arteries later in life, finds study.

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may reduce risk for heart attack later in life, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

The study included 2,508 men and women from the CARDIA (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults) study, which evaluates how heart disease develops throughout adulthood. After enrolling in the study between the ages of 18 and 30, participants were asked about the amount of fruits and vegetables they consumed using a food-frequency questionnaire. Based on their answers, participants were categorized as having a high, moderate or low fruit and vegetable intake.

Twenty years later, participants then underwent a test called a computed tomography (CT) scan to measure calcium build-up in the arteries. Not only is calcium build-up an early sign of heart disease, individuals with calcium build-up are at increased risk for heart attack, which can be life-threatening.

After analysis, researchers found that women consuming the highest amount of fruits and vegetables (8-9 servings a day) during their 20s were 40% less likely to have plaque build-up in their 40s compared to those who ate the least amount (3-4 servings a day) during the same time period. Surprisingly, the same benefit did not ring true for men in this study, which experts believe warrants further investigation.

Still, lead investigator of the study Michael D. Miedema, MD, MPH, believes that findings “confirm the concept that plaque development is a lifelong process, and that process can be slowed down with a healthy diet at a young age.” Since eating habits are established early in life, Miedema emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy diet starting at a young age. And according to the 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary guidelines, a healthy diet should include at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • What are the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables?
  • Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories and contain a wealth of important nutrients, such as potassium, fiber and vitamin C. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet may help reduce risk of heart disease, cancer and other health conditions.

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