Eating fruits and vegetables is a matter of life and death — from all causes, as well as from cardiovascular disease — according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Researchers sought to look at the relationship between different dietary patterns throughout the day — what kinds of foods people ate at what time of day — and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes. They looked at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), including a total of 21,503 participants who reported their total food intake over a 24-hour period. The researchers then compared various dietary patterns with the risk of death over a follow-up period that lasted an average of about seven years. During this follow-up period, a total of 2,192 participants died, including 676 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 476 deaths from cancer.
Fruit and vegetable consumption linked to reduced death risk
After adjusting for various factors that could affect the risk of death (both overall and from cardiovascular disease or cancer), the researchers found that consuming fruit at lunchtime was linked to an 18% lower risk of death from all causes and a 34% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. People who ate a lunch typical of a modern Western diet, on the other hand — without substantial fruits or vegetables — were 44% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease. People who ate vegetables at dinner were 31% less likely to die of all causes, 23% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, and 37% less likely to die of cancer.
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Aside from meals, snack patterns were also tied to the risk of death. People who ate fruit between breakfast and lunch were 22% less likely to die of all causes and 45% less likely to die of cancer. Consuming a dairy-based snack after dinner was also beneficial, linked to an 18% lower risk of death from all causes and a 33% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Eating a starchy snack after main meals, on the other hand, was linked to a higher overall risk of death — 50% higher for starchy snacks after breakfast, 52% higher after lunch, and 50% higher after dinner. For death from cardiovascular disease, eating a starchy snack raised this risk by 55% after breakfast, 44% after lunch, and 57% after dinner.
Taken together, these results show that snacking on fruit and including both fruits and vegetables with meals are linked to a lower risk of death, including from cardiovascular disease and cancer — while eating starchy snacks between meals is linked to worse outcomes in these same areas. More research is needed to look at whether particular fruits or vegetables are especially beneficial, or whether certain starchy snacks are worse than others. Still, it’s a good bet that increasing your fruit and vegetable intake will lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer, and increase your odds of living longer.
Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” “Top Tips for Healthier Eating,” and “Strategies for Healthy Eating With Diabetes.”
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