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Mom's Advice May Save Lives

Mom's Advice May Save Lives: Main Image
'Eat your fruit and vegetables,' is good advice, especially when it comes to addressing heart disease risk
A study of more than 300,000 people suggests that Mom was right. "Eat your fruit and vegetables," is good advice, especially when it comes to addressing heart disease risk.

Focus on food to lower heart disease risk

Researchers collected information on diet and exercise habits, medical conditions, and other health-related behaviors, such as alcohol and tobacco use, from men and women in eight European countries. None of the study participants had experienced a heart attack or stroke before the start of the study. The group was followed for an average of 8.4 years.

After accounting for other factors that may affect the risk of dying of heart disease, the researchers found that compared with people eating fewer than three servings of fruit and vegetables per day, those who ate eight or more servings of these foods daily had 22% lower risk of having a fatal heart attack. As well, risk of death due to heart disease dropped by 4% for each additional 80-gram portion--about 3 ounces--of fruit and vegetables a person ate each day.

Maintaining a happy heart

This study is observational, which means the participants were not assigned to follow a particular diet. While observational studies cannot prove cause and effect, this study suggests that eating more fruit and vegetables can lower your risk of dying of heart disease and the findings are consistent with other research that has shown a relationship between a healthy diet and reduced risk of heart disease. Plus, there are lots of other reasons to eat more of these healthy foods.

Try these tips for bringing down your heart disease risk:

  • Start with the plate. To get more vegetables and fruit into your diet, visualize a plate. Make sure that vegetables and fruit cover two-thirds of your plate, with the remaining one-third covered by whole grains and lean protein, such as beans, lentils, chicken, or fish.
  • Snack smart. Keep vegetables and fruit on hand, so you're not tempted to hit the vending machine. For example, buy pre-cut veggies and hummus dip to take to work, and keep an apple and an air-tight bag of nuts in your gym bag or briefcase.
  • Work with your doctor. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol levels or a high level of inflammation in your body, which can be detected with a simple blood test (hs-CRP). When trying to lower your risk, it's best to tackle the obvious culprits first.
  • Drop excess pounds. Obesity is one of the leading causes of heart disease. Take a serious look at your body weight and make your own health a priority. Try enlisting help through a new program if you are significantly overweight and have not been successful before.
  • Move more. Even if you don't shed a lot of pounds, exercise protects against heart disease. Focus on your health, not some "ideal" body that may be unrealistic for you to reach.

(Eur Heart J Jan 18, 2011; published online before print)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.