When it comes to fruits and vegetables, more is better. Harvard University performed a meta-analysis and found that people who ate over five servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke and coronary heart disease than people who ate less than three servings. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which are molecules that fight against free radicals that would otherwise lead to oxidative stress, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Color your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables to take advantage of their heart-healthy benefits.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Dark leafy green vegetables, which include salad greens, Swiss chard, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens and mustard greens, provide many health benefits. Spinach and Swiss chard are high in magnesium, which may help with blood pressure control, promoting heart health. Turnip greens are high in folate, which also helps keep the heart healthy.
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale. Broccoli is rich in B vitamins, such as folate, which may reduce risk for heart disease and stroke. Cabbage contains calcium, which is important because adequate calcium intake may lower blood pressure. A 2011 study in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that a high intake of cruciferous vegetables was associated with a reduced risk of death related to cardiovascular disease.
Citrus fruits include oranges, lemons, grapefruit and limes. These fruits contain flavonoids and carotenoids that protect against oxidative stress and decrease inflammation in the body, thus preventing cardiovascular disease. A 2011 study in the "Journal of Epidemiology" found that frequent intake of citrus fruits was associated with a lower incidence of heart disease.
Berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, contain anthocyanin, which helps improve blood flow to the heart and guards against plaque buildup. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found that women who ate at least three servings of blueberries and strawberries per week had a lower risk of having a heart attack.
Avoid Added Sodium and Sugar
All fresh fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, which is important for blood pressure control. It is important to read the labels of frozen and canned vegetables because some varieties may contain high levels of sodium. Fruits contain natural sugars, but sugars can also be added during processing and packaging. Avoid fruits packed in syrup or juice to prevent excessive sugar intake.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Vegetables and Fruits: Get Plenty Every Day
- USDA Agricultural Research Service: Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
- American Heart Association: Fruits and Vegetables
- Journal of Epidemiology: Frequency of Citrus Fruit Intake Is Associated With the Incidence of Cardiovascular Disease: the Jichi Medical School Cohort Study
- Today's Dietitian: Eat to Lower Blood Pressure
- Harvard School of Public Health: Berries May Lower Women's Heart Attack Risk
- American Heart Association: Can Antioxidants in Fruits and Vegetables Protect You and Your Heart?
- Heart MD Institute: Phytonutrients