If you’re trying to lose weight, replacing sugary snacks and sodas with fruits and vegetables will definitely put you on the right track. But fruits and vegetables can do more than that. In fact, they can protect you against a stroke.
Fruits and vegetables contain many nutrients that you need to keep your heart healthy, and reduce the risk of stroke such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (in the form of antioxidants), dietary fiber, and carotenoids. Swedish researchers wanted to see how fruits were responsible for keeping your heart healthy—it turns out, there’s a reason your mother told you to snack on fruits and veggies, and there is more to it than just weight loss!
The Swiss research team followed 74,961 people starting in 1997, and spent 10 years collecting information on their dietary habits, their fruit and vegetable consumption, and their diseases. None of the participants showed signs of heart disease or cancer at the outset of the study and none had suffered a stroke.
Before the study even concluded, over 4,000 of the participants suffered from a stroke. After comparing the participants who had a stroke versus the ones who didn’t, and taking into account their fruit consumption, the relative risk of having a stroke was cut almost in half for people with the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables. This result only applied to the participants who weren’t already suffering from hypertension.
The fruits that had the most benefits for preventing strokes were apples, pears, and green leafy vegetables.
And here’s why: apples contain phytonutrients and fiber, in the form of pectin, that regulate blood fat levels. Anything that regulates your fat levels will also play an important role in preventing heart disease. The skin of pears is where most of its fiber is located, which is another heart-healthy nutrient, and pears also contain an abundance of phenolic phytonutrients. These phytonutrients act as antioxidants to protect heart tissue and some also act as anti-inflammatories, reducing wear and tear on the mechanisms of your heart.
As for green leafy vegetables, suffice to say, they’ve got your heart covered! These superfoods target all areas of the heart and play multiple roles in protecting it.
And that’s not all that fruits can do. According to the American Heart Association, eating more citrus fruits, particularly grapefruit, and oranges, can lower the risk of ischemic stroke, especially in women. According to the study, published in Stroke: The Journal of the American Heart Association, women who ate flavanones in citrus fruits reduced their risk of stroke by 19%.
More studies find similar results. A review of the literature on diet and risk of stroke found that people with a diet rich in whole grains, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and vitamins and minerals can reduce the risk of stroke.
Now that the results are in, get shopping. Make sure you’re stocking up on apples, pears, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits.
Larsson, S.C., et al, “Total and specific fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of stroke: A prospective study,” Atherosclerosis. March 2013; 227(1): 147-52.
Foroughi, M., “Stroke and nutrition: a review of studies,” International Journal of Preventative Medicine 2013: S165-79.