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Improve Your Heart Health – Eat Vegetables

Want to help prevent heart disease and stroke?  Eat Your VegetableNY Times Reporter Randy Harris wants you to know — eating more vegetables may improve your heart health.  THat's why we see so many campaigns telling us to eat our vegetables!

A number of studies show that high vegetable consumption is associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

“We now have much more information from prospective studies on intake of fruits and vegetables in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease,’’ said Dr. Walter C. Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Thus the advice should continue, but the benefit will be primarily for heart disease and stroke.’’

The European study tracked 142,605 men and 335,873 women for an average of nearly nine years. Eating more vegetables was associated with a small but statistically significant reduction in cancer risk. The data translates into a 4 percent lower risk of cancer for every two extra servings of vegetables a day a person eats.

While the findings suggest at least a small lower risk of cancer among those who eat lots of vegetables, the slight difference could be explained by a number of variables, like reporting errors among the study subjects or the fact that vegetable eaters also are less likely to smoke or drink to excess. In addition, a 4 percent reduction in relative risk offers very little practical benefit to an individual. For instance, a person with a 10 percent risk of getting cancer over the next eight years would, at best, lower his or her risk to just 9.6 percent by eating two extra servings of vegetables a day.

Dr. Willett noted that the study results don’t speak to the potential of specific types of vegetables and fruits in reducing cancer risk. For example, several studies over the years have suggested that lycopene from tomatoes may lower prostate cancer risk.

In addition, because the study focused on vegetable consumption during adulthood, it doesn’t tell us much about the effect of high vegetable consumption during childhood and the teenage years.

“Multiple lines of evidence indicate that ionizing radiation and some other risk factors for cancer can operate primarily in childhood and early adult life,’’ Dr. Willett wrote in an accompanying editorial. “Thus, antioxidants or other protective constituents of fruits and vegetables may need to be present at that time to be effective.’’

Most important is the fact that a large body of evidence shows that increasing vegetable consumption is good for your heart. In 2004, Harvard researchers reported on data collected from more than 100,000 nurses and doctors. Although the study showed no link between cancer risk and vegetable consumption, eating five or more fruit and vegetable servings daily was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease or stroke compared to those who ate less than 1.5 servings a day.

In 1997, a randomized trial of 500 adults showed that increasing fruit and vegetable intake lowered blood pressure compared with study subjects who ate a typical American diet that is high in fat and low in vegetables.