Well not always… but studies suggest good ol’ fruit and veg can definitely make a difference! For as far back as many of us can remember, our parents and even grandparents have been encouraging, some even forcing, us to eat our vegetables (because let’s be honest, cooked cauliflower is not the type of flower many of us want to be smelling let alone eating). And while we now know that the food was never really sacrificed for us by hungry kids in Central Africa, we hopefully eat it out of our own will, and for good reason!
WHY OUR HEARTS LOVE THEM!
So we’ve heard about the numerous benefits these nutrient powerhouses have on our bodies, but what about our hearts? Fruits and vegetables are not only good for your heart because of what they contain but also for what they don’t contain. They are naturally low in fat, calories and sodium, and have no cholesterol; while boasting fibre and water as well as many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help keep your heart healthy. Much research has been done around antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables and how they can benefit the heart, for example: lycopene found in tomatoes, anthocyanins found in berries, pterostilbene in blueberries, sulphoraphane found in cruciferous vegetables, and Vitamins B2 and C found in mushrooms and citrus fruit respectively.
According to research presented at the 2014 ESC (European Society of Cardiology) Congress by Dr Huaidong Du from Oxford, UK. The findings from a seven year follow-up study of nearly 0.5 million people in the China Kadoorie Biobank found that the more fruit people ate, the lower the risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). The researchers found that compared to people who never ate fruit, those who ate fruit daily cut their CVD risks by 25-40% (around 15% for Ischaemic heart disease (IHD), around 25% for ischaemic stroke and 40% for haemorrhagic stroke).
Magnesium and potassium are minerals that have both been seen to boost heart health by their ability to assist in lowering blood pressure. Dark leafy greens such as spinach, as well as avocados, bananas, strawberries and figs are just a few sources of magnesium. Studies suggest boosting your potassium intake and curbing salt and sodium can slash your stroke risk by 21% and may also lower your odds of developing heart disease in the first place. A few fruit and veg sources of potassium include: sweet potato, tomato paste, prunes, winter squash, carrots, bananas and orange juice.
B-vitamins, most commonly found in your green leafy vegetables, have also been seen to assist in heart health by lowering homocysteine levels. High homocysteine levels are linked to an increased chance of developing heart disease. Studies have shown that fibre, specifically soluble fibre, in the correct amounts could help lower cholesterol levels and therefore may assist in CVD risk reduction.
HOW MUCH SHOULD WE BE EATING?
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa recommends eating 5 vegetables and fruit every day. Remember to eat vegetables and fruit from the different colour groups (red, green, yellow and orange) to ensure you get a wide array of micronutrients.
THE AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION (AHA) SHARES THE FOLLOWING TIPS
When added sugars and sodium hide, you must seek.
Any product that contains fruit has some natural sugars. However, sugars are often added to packaged or prepared fruit and may be disguised as many different names on the list of ingredients.
Sodium is also often added to canned or frozen vegetables.
If you’re buying canned or frozen, watch out for added salt and sugar. When shopping for canned vegetables, be sure to compare food labels and choose the product with the least amount of sodium. If sodium is a concern, be sure to rinse the canned vegetables prior to using. When choosing canned fruit, choose fruit packed in fruit juice or light syrup. If shopping for frozen fruit, select 100% fruit with no added sugar. Check the labels of frozen products with sauces as those can be a source of added salt. Limiting sodium can help you reduce the risk for heart disease.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients that are beneficial for our health – there are so many reasons to include them in your diet! So make sure that you are getting your “five-a-day”.