Parents have been saying it for decades, “Eat your fruits and vegetables.” They know what they’re talking about. Research has shown eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Up to 6 servings per day appears to provide the most benefit.
One reason is that they contain fiber, which protects against heart disease. Eating fiber also protects against type 2 diabetes. And eating soluble fiber (oats, beans and apples, for example) may help people who already have diabetes control their blood sugar better.
Fruits and vegetables are also usually rich in potassium. Studies, such as the DASH diet studies, have shown potassium may play a role in lowering blood pressure, and therefore, lowering the risk of heart disease.
Another reason to eat fruits and vegetables is that they provide phytosterols, such as plant stanol and sterol esters. These are natural plant compounds that help lower cholesterol. Phytosterols are found naturally in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts and whole grains. Many foods, such as some soft tub margarines, are now fortified with stanol or sterol esters to help lower cholesterol.
Boost your fruit and vegetable intake with these tips:
- Aim for at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, as recommended by the American Heart Association.
- Vary the kinds of fruits and vegetables you eat, choosing different colors.
- Green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts may lower the risk of heart disease the most.
- Wash and cut up fruits and vegetables and place them in clear view within your refrigerator for easy access.
- If you have high cholesterol, consider consuming 2 grams of phytosterols each day, as recommended by The National Cholesterol Education Program. To get this amount, it is necessary to eat foods fortified with stanol or sterol esters. Sometimes several servings per day are necessary to get 2 grams, so read the directions on the labels of foods.