Young adults who eat the most fruits and vegetable have the least calcified plaque buildup in their arteries decades later, which indicates a reduced risk of heart disease, according to a new study.
The new analysis involved participants in the government-funded Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. At the start, in 1985, researchers collected diet history and other health-related data from blacks and whites ages 18 to 30.
For the long-term study, the researchers divided 2,506 study participants into three groups based on their fruit and vegetable consumption. Those in the top third ate an average of seven to nine servings per day as young adults, while the bottom third got two to three daily servings.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends four servings of vegetables and three servings of fruits daily for active women and most men.
In 2005, the participants had computed tomography (CT) scans to check for buildup of calcium in the arteries of the heart.
Those in the top third of fruit and vegetable consumption at the start were 26 percent less likely to have calcified plaque in their arteries 20 years later, compared to those in the lower third.
The relationship was only significant for women, although other studies have linked fruit and vegetables to heart health for both women and men.
The data suggest dietary patterns higher in fruits and vegetables may be protective with respect to cardiovascular disease. However, that does not mean adding fruits and vegetables to a diet high in animal fats and refined carbohydrate will lower risk.
The researchers adjusted for education and income, smoking, weight and alcohol intake and the association with fruits and vegetables remained.
Even so, this was an observational study, so it does not prove that fruit and vegetable intake caused changes in calcified plaque risk.
“We know there are multiple things about fruits and vegetables that are healthy,” the researchers said. “You can’t wait until you’re 50 to establish these dietary patterns.”
Source: Circulation, online October 26, 2015.
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