Remember sitting at the table as a kid staring a big soggy pile of greens? Your mom wouldn’t let you leave the table until you gave it a try.
Or worst, your father demanded that you, “Eat all of your vegetables!” before you could dig into any sort of sweet dessert.
Ah yes. These scenes may be from a childhood horror story. But – as an adult — reminding yourself to include those fruits and veggies in your diet can make a huge difference in your health.
In fact, according to a new study presented at Nutrition 2019, an annual event put on by the American Society of Nutrition, eating your recommended fruits and vegetables could actually save your life.
Researchers looked at food availability and diet information from 113 countries, 82% of the world population, and estimated the amounts of fruits and vegetables that people in different regions were able to eat on a daily basis.
Secondly, they looked at information about causes of death in the same regions, specifically deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and the link to a lack of fruits and vegetables.
The researchers found that each year, about 1 in 7 people around the world die from heart disease and stroke from not eating enough fruit. When it comes to vegetables, 1 in 12 suffer the same outcome.
We can break this down a little bit farther, and the results are no less astonishing.
Fruits – Per year, approximately 1.3 million people die from stroke and another 520,000 from heart disease from not eating enough fruit.
Vegetables – In that same time, they found 200,000 deaths from stroke and 800,000 deaths from heart disease due to a lack of vegetables in people’s diet.
Needless to say, these numbers are impressive and terrifying at the same time. If this doesn’t make you want to reconsider your relationship with the produce department, we don’t know what will.
As the study’s co-author, Victoria Miller, Ph. D and postdoctoral research fellow at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University says, “fruits and vegetables are a modifiable component of the diet that can impact preventable cardiovascular deaths globally.”
There are two parts of this statement that are really important and we should be paying attention to them.
First, fruits and vegetables are a “modifiable” part of your diet. You can change the amount that you eat and how you eat it. You don’t have to have access to ten pounds of carrots and twelve pounds of grapes each and every day to help yourself.
Secondly, eating these items can impact “preventable” cardiovascular deaths. It can be easy to get caught up in family history and genetic predisposition, but you shouldn’t assume that you’ve been set-up for the worst. Don’t risk kicking the bucket because you don’t want to eat your broccoli.
Before we get into the details, let’s remember eating your fruits and veggies is not a new concept. There are a lot of foods that are cause for health concerns, or are part of a fad diet that comes and goes. However, fruits and vegetables have pretty well withstood the test of time as far as something you should definitely be eating. Here’s why:
Nutrients – Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nutrients your body needs.
Fiber – We are all familiar with the benefits of fiber for your digestion, but that’s not all it does. Fiber also slows the rate sugar is absorbed into your bloodstream. This keeps your glucose levels from spiking and then falling rapidly.
Potassium – Potassium is a nutrient known as an electrolyte, and it serves some really important functions. It helps regulate fluid balances in your body. Potassium creates positively charged ions when dissolved in water. This allows the cells in your body to communicate with each other by maintaining healthy nerve impulses. It also helps regulate muscle contractions, including those in your heart.
Healthy potassium levels can also help reduce blood pressure, protect against strokes, osteoporosis and kidney stones.
Magnesium – This is another nutrient that you really need. Magnesium helps maintain healthy brain function, a healthy heartbeat, and contributes to correct muscle contractions. Magnesium can also help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve blood sugar, and combat depression and insomnia.
All of these nutrients, among others you’ll find in fruits and vegetables, help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which are major contributing factors to heart disease and stroke.
“Minimally processed foods like fruits and vegetables also improve the health and diversity of good bacteria in the digestive tract. People who eat more of these foods are also less likely to be overweight or obese, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Miller.
“The Mark” when it comes to what you should be eating is around 300 grams of fruit and 400 grams of vegetables per day. Miller explains, “Eating up to 800 grams of fruits and vegetables – equivalent to 8 servings – has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.”
Eight servings of fruit and vegetables may seem like a lot, but when you break it up over the course of the day, it’s really not so daunting.
Breakfast – Whether you are eating yogurt, cereal or oatmeal, throw some fruit in there. It will taste great and knock off one serving first thing in the morning.
Snacks – When you are needing a little something to snack on throughout the day, because we all do, there are tons of fruit and veggie options. Grab an apple or a banana. If that’s not your jam, snack on some dried fruit. This doesn’t have to be plain either, mix your dried fruit with some nuts, cheese or maybe chocolate chips if you want to get crazy.
Think back to your younger years and pack up some carrot sticks, or spread some peanut butter in celery.
Lunch/Dinner – I think many of us immediately imagine a salad when we think of vegetables for lunch or dinner, but there’s so much more you can do. They don’t have to be raw and they don’t have to be boring.
Throw a bunch of fruits and veggies on the grill in the summer and add them to your burger, toss them in some pasta, or just eat them in their charred greatness. Maybe your burger could be a veggie burger and you’d be racking up the servings!
Gone are the days of steamed broccoli waiting for you at the dinner table. You don’t need to approach your plate with a sense of dread.
Work those fruits and veggies into your everyday and your heart will thank you.
Estimated Global, Regional, and National Cardiovascular Disease Burdens Related to Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: An Analysis from the Global Dietary Database: Victoria Miller, PhD; Frederick Cudhea, PhD; Gitanjali Singh, PhD, MPH; Renata Micha, PhD; Peilin Shi, PhD; Jianyi Zhang, PhD; Jennifer Onopa, MS, RDN; Dimitra Karageorgou, PhD; Patrick Webb, PhD; Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH; 2019
Eating Enough Fruits and Vegetables Can Prevent Millions of Deaths Each Year. Danielle Zickl; 2019