Although there was a suspicion that a high consumption of fruits and vegetables would be beneficial for cardiovascular health, it has been a study published in the prestigious European Heart Journal, which has been able to demonstrate this sufficiently. However, despite the forcefulness of their results, reasonable doubts about the nutritional properties of these foods with regard to their cardioprotective effect have not been dispelled.
The objective of the European Prospective Study on Nutrition, Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease (EPIC) was to verify a possible relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and the incidence of ischemic cardiovascular disease and stroke.
For 8.4 years, 313,074 people of both sexes were monitored and observed in several European countries, including Spain. Participants were invited to consume at least eight daily servings of fruit and vegetables of 80 grams each. At the end of the study, it was found that the subjects, without a history of stroke or cardiovascular ischemic disease, had managed to reduce by 22% the risk of suffering a clinical episode affecting the coronary arteries (angina or infarction) or the cerebral arteries (ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke) in relation to another group of subjects with similar clinical characteristics in which the consumption of fruit and vegetables was significantly lower (less than three portions per day). It was concluded that for each piece of fruit and vegetable consumed per day, weighing 80 grams, a cumulative risk reduction of 4% was achieved.
How fruits and vegetables reduce cardiac and cerebrovascular eventsThe facts show that a high intake of fruits and vegetables does not reduce total cholesterol levels, nor does it lower LDL (bad cholesterol) or raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels, nor does it have any direct action on triglycerides. Consequently, it is not through a reduction in cholesterol that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables lowers rates of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular clinical episodes. This lack of causal link has led researchers to speculate on other factors that are enhanced by this type of food. Thus, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables increases potassium and magnesium concentrations, which protect against heart rhythm disorders, while reducing the intake of sodium whose association with high blood pressure is well established. In addition, the high concentration of antioxidants may play a protective role against ischemic vascular disease. On the other hand, the rich fibre content provided by this type of food favours intestinal transit and therefore reduces the chances of developing inflammatory phenomena, while competing with intestinal fat absorption. If this type of food is supplemented with nuts, rich in omega-3 and 6 acids, the protective factor of the vegetable diet is enhanced.
In short, although it is not clear what the mechanisms of action derived from the Mediterranean diet (rich in fruits and vegetables) are, the consequences are not only well known, but there is growing clinical and epidemiological evidence that these healthy eating habits provide undeniable protection against cardiovascular disease.
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Indispensable food in the daily dietOther good health campaigns recommend eating at least five pieces of fruit a day, as well as a vegetable or salad plate and about 40-50 grams of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts or peanuts).
Let's accept as excellent these advices that, in addition, are easy to carry out in a country like Spain where the vegetable garden is so rich in this kind of products. However, it would be necessary to obtain financial aid from the health authorities in order to reduce prices and make fruit and vegetables into basic necessities so that they would be within the reach of the entire population. Similarly, it is highly desirable that vending machines for snacks, in which industrial bakery predominates, were replaced or supplemented with fresh fruit, and this is also mandatory in those dispensers near schools or children's areas.
Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality from ischaemic heart disease: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart study