Eat Your Greens and Whites
How Produce can Protect Vascular Health
We all know a good deal more about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables since the time when mom’s advice was “Eat them, and you’ll grow big and strong.” The bounty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in many fruits and veggies, and the benefits of the produce-packed Mediterranean diet, are now common knowledge.
What you may not know is that eating certain fruits and vegetables can actually provide protection from vascular disease. Primarily impacting the blood vessels, vascular disease can also lead to heart attacks, stroke and death.
New Data on Fruits and Veggies
“Despite the fact that the medical community and the public are more aware of what healthy eating should be, researchers continue to find more ways that nutritious foods can benefit the cardiovascular system as well as the rest of the body,” says Chantel Hile, MD, a vascular surgeon in the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
One such study, conducted in Sweden, found that consuming apples, pears and green leafy vegetables can reduce the risk of stroke. The heart-health benefits of apples and pears was also confirmed by a second study, with findings that showed a regular diet of “white” produce can lower stroke risk by 52 percent.
“Researchers investigating these foods are just scratching the surface of how certain fruits and vegetables benefit the vascular system,” says Hile.
“With white-fleshed produce like apples and pears, it appears that quercetin, a plant-based chemical, may help reduce the risk of plaque buildup in arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke.
“And,” she adds, “the leafy greens that studies are finding to be beneficial contain dietary nitrate, or nitric oxide, which can help to maintain smooth muscle cells in the vascular system and protect vascular health.”
How Should This Impact Your Diet?
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that we eat at least eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Each serving can be satisfied through a full cup of leafy or raw veggies or a half-cup of cooked vegetables. If this seems like a lot of produce to you, you’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control has found overall produce consumption in the U.S. is low, with the average adult eating fruit 1.1 times a day and vegetables 1.6 times a day.
“For those who are struggling to raise the amount of produce in their diets, one easy technique is to try adding them to foods that you frequently eat,” says Hile. “Try adding chopped veggies to eggs or potatoes, or adding leafy greens to sandwiches. Incorporate more salads into your diet and carry fresh fruit with you as a snack.”
Hile recommends avoiding any vegetables that are fried, breaded or have high-fat creamy sauces.
“Stay with fresh produce whenever possible, but if you do eat canned versions, select low or no-sodium veggies and fruits without added sugar,” she adds.
Still Just Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
“While more research is needed to clearly define the heart-healthy properties of white produce and leafy greens,” says Hile, “it’s clear that eating a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits each day can benefit your health by helping you to control cholesterol, blood pressure levels, and weight.” Hile also strongly recommends regular exercise and giving up smoking.
“Smoking has a direct connection to vascular damage, since it harms inner cell layer responses,” she explains. “It’s never too late to quit. And, you would be surprised at the benefit that a daily walk can make in your health.
“Some of my patients make these lifestyle changes after surgical intervention. It is frustrating to see people who say they would rather not change their lifestyles,” says Hile. “Some people ask to see the plaque if I’ve removed it surgically — and this is a good motivating tool to get people to make changes.” The bottom line is that daily consumption of produce is a lifeline to better heart and vascular health. It’s clear that the time spent in the fruit and vegetable sections of the supermarket can be the start of a daily investment in your own health.
For healthy recipes that incorporate more produce into your diet, visit the AHA’s Nutrition Center »
Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.