Lowering Heart Disease Death Risk With Fruits and Veggies

A new, large-scale study from the University of Oxford shows that mother really does know best: Eating your vegetables is very good for you. In fact, eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables may make you less likely to die from heart disease. Adults with diabetes have heart disease rates roughly 2 to 4 times those of adults without diabetes.


To determine the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and death from heart disease, researchers looked at 313,074 people who had been enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart study. Food intake was assessed by questionnaires and follow-up face-to-face interviews, and the participants were followed for an average of 8.4 years.

Over the course of the study period, 1,636 deaths occurred from ischemic heart disease, the most common type of heart disease. The data showed that people eating at least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables daily were 22% less likely to die from heart disease than people eating three or fewer servings per day. And even for people who didn’t consume 8 servings daily, eating more fruits and vegetables was associated with a heart benefit; every additional serving above two per day was equal to a 4% decrease in the rate of heart disease deaths.

Randall Zusman, MD, director of the division of hypertension of Massachusetts Hospital, notes that “This is probably the largest study of its type and should convince even the greatest skeptic of the value of fruits and veggies.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommend a flexible approach to fruit and vegetable consumption based on age, sex, and activity level. For a 40-year-old sedentary man, for instance, the CDC recommends 2 cups of fruits and 3 cups of vegetables per day, while for a 40-year-old sedentary woman, the organization recommends 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily. (More about the CDC’s “Fruits & Veggies Matter” program can be found here.) Currently, however, the majority of the population in the United States consumes less than the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

Eating eight servings of fruits and vegetables, or roughly 23 ounces, daily may sound daunting. However, according to Carla Wolper, MS, RD, CDN, with the Obesity Research Center at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital, “A large navel orange can easily weigh close to 8 ounces, and so does a large apple. That leaves a measly 6 ounces for salad, string beans, or other vegetables on the dinner plate, so yes, people can easily eat this much.”

To learn more about the study, read the article “Heart Disease Death Rate Drops With Each Added Fruit and Veggie Serving” or see the study in the European Heart Journal. And for some delicious vegetable-based recipes, click here.

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  • karen harrison

    I would like to add that there is also a type of heart attack/disease which is caused by vasospasm – essentially, your vessels have a “Charlie horse” which causes them to constrict, blocking blood flow to the heart. These types of attacks are far less common, can occur with clear arteries (no plaque buildup) and excellent dietary habits, and receive far less press, but they are just as deadly. Most reports indicate women are more at risk and stress is a major cause. I mention this here because I had a vasospastic attack this past summer and I was hoping to see more articles about this type of attack during heart month; but as noted, the lion’s share of press goes to “traditional’ ischemic heart attacks (i.e., those caused by plaque buildups). Thanks for letting me comment.

  • Linda T

    I would like to know more about vasospasm. I read about a type of heart pain caused by cocaine usage, but I have never taken cocaine, or any drug, other that the few that are prescription drugs, and 3 times in the past 3 years I have awoken with a sharp pain in the center of my chest that lasted for 10-15 minutes and gradually went away. Could this happen because I was all curled up when asleep and some muscles “fell asleep”? last year I had an chemical stress test but it was inconclusive. My Cardiologist was non-commital and I could see he felt I was just complaining. Thanks Linda