Did you know that well over half of all heart disease can be averted with smart daily choices? Avoiding tobacco and exercising regularly go a long way toward a happy heart, but two new studies show that simple diet changes can safeguard our health too.
Two large studies, similar results
Researchers in Europe tracked 313,074 adults for an average of eight years, while accounting for other factors that affect heart disease risk, such as smoking, body weight, exercise patterns, other eating habits, high blood pressure, and diabetes. They found:
Compared with people eating three or fewer daily servings of fruits and vegetables, those who ate eight or more servings had 22% lower risk of heart disease death.
For each additional serving of vegetables and fruit a person ate each day, the risk of heart disease death fell by 4%.
Another large study shows that fiber deserves attention too. Researchers in the US followed 388,122 older men and women (50 to 71 years old) for an average of 9 years, also accounting for things that can affect disease risk. They found that:
Compared with people who ate 10 to 12 grams of fiber per day, those who ate 25 to 30 grams daily had 22% lower risk of dying from any cause.
For men who ate 30 or more grams of fiber daily, the risk of death was 24% lower for heart disease, 17% lower for cancer, 56% lower for infectious disease, and 31% lower for respiratory (lung) disease compared with men who ate 12 or fewer grams of fiber per day.
For women who ate 25 or more grams of fiber daily, the risk of death was 34% lower for heart disease, 59% for infectious disease, and 46% for respiratory disease compared with women who ate 10 or fewer grams of fiber per day.
Small changes, big results
These studies were observational, so they don’t prove cause and effect, but they do suggest that some simple diet changes are in order if we want to stay healthy for the long haul. Our tips will get you started.
Start small. For the first study, a serving was 80 grams, which is a little less than 3 ounces. A large apple can be up to three servings, so it doesn’t take much to meet the target of eight servings per day.
Focus on food. The second study focused on food fiber, not fiber supplements. Aim to get fiber first thing in the morning with a bowl of high fiber cereal, which can get you halfway to the daily goal of 25 to 30 grams.
Play to your palate. Don’t be a slave to conventional wisdom that you must eat certain foods, which can be discouraging if you don’t like those foods. Sure, broccoli is great, but so are carrots, peppers, cabbage, and parsnips.
Color your plate. Aim to have two-thirds of each meal or snack plate covered with vegetables, fruit, and/or legumes. Fill in the rest with lean protein and a whole grain.
(Arch Intern Med Published Online Feb 14, 2011: doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.18; Eur Heart J Published Online Jan 18, 2011: doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehq465)
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.