Although most people know they should eat more fruits and vegetables, less than a quarter of Americans actually eat the recommended minimum of five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.


Although most people know they should eat more fruits and vegetables, less than a quarter of Americans actually eat the recommended minimum of five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Most Americans consume just three servings, or 1 ½ cups, of fruits and vegetables daily. Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake has many health benefits, some of which directly are related to heart health.

Lower your risk of developing heart disease. Research shows individuals who consume the most fruits and vegetables daily have the lowest chance of developing heart disease. Much of this benefit is because of the antioxidants and fiber found in fruits and vegetables. Dark green, leafy vegetables and citrus fruits are especially healthful. Increasing your intake by as little as one serving a day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 4 percent.
Greater risk reduction for diabetics. Studies have shown that each additional serving of fruits and vegetables consumed by a person with diabetes resulted in a 10 percent lower risk of heart disease for men and 7 percent lower risk for women.

Lower your risk of dying from heart disease. One large study reported that people who ate the most vegetables had a 44 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who ate few vegetables.

Reduce your risk of stroke. In a study that followed healthy middle-aged men for 20 years, it was found that every increment of three daily servings of fruits and vegetables equaled a 22 percent reduction in the risk of stroke.

Lower your blood pressure. People with high blood pressure who ate a diet low in saturated fat and rich in fruits and vegetables reduced their blood pressure to a level previously only accomplished with medication.

Lower your cholesterol. Men and women who consume more fruits and vegetables (at least four servings a day) had the lowest cholesterol. Imagine what eating five to nine or more servings a day could do for you!

Improve your overall nutrition. The typical American diet is high in fat, sodium and calories from highly processed foods. Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake will improve your intake of fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate. All of which have cardio-protective properties.

Lose weight. People who eat more fruits and vegetables eat fewer calories. Maybe it’ s the fiber that helps fill them up  or maybe fruits and vegetables are used as a replacement for other, higher calorie and less nutritious foods. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease.

Fruits and vegetables provide lots of essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, beta-carotene, phytosterols, micronutrients and fiber that can’t be replicated by a supplement or pill. To get the maximum benefit from your fruits and vegetables, think color. Eat from the rainbow. Think green spinach, orange sweet potatoes, black beans, yellow pineapple, purple plums, red tomatoes, white onions and blue berries. Even if you say you don’t like fruits and vegetables, the variety is so great you are sure to find some that you love.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.