Eating more fruits and vegetables in young adulthood may lead to better heart health in later life.
Published in the journal Circulation, the research reveals that young adults who ate an average of seven to nine portions of fruits and vegetables daily were significantly less likely to have calcified coronary artery plaque 2 decades later than those with low intake of fruits and vegetables.
This is not the first study to associate consumption of fruits and vegetables with heart health. Last year, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting eating more green vegetables may protect against heart conditions, while other studies have linked a diet high in fruits and vegetables with lower risk for heart disease.
However, Dr. Michael D. Miedema, lead author of this latest study and senior consulting cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute in Minnesota, says their research is the first to assess whether consumption of fruits and vegetables in young adulthood influences heart health later in life.
'People shouldn't wait until they're older to eat healthy'
The team enrolled 2,506 participants who were a part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.
- Recommendations state adults who engage in more than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily should consume 1.5-2 cups of fruits and 2-3 cups of vegetables a day
- However, only 13.1% of American adults eat enough fruits and only 8.9% eat enough vegetables
- Adding more fruits and vegetables to a diet can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
At study baseline in 1985, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their diet, smoking status, weight, cardiovascular risk factors - such as blood pressure - among other lifestyle factors.
The subjects were allocated to one of three groups based on their daily intake of fruits and vegetables. In the group with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables, women consumed an average of nine portions a day, while men ate an average of seven portions daily.
In the group with the lowest intake of fruits and vegetables, women consumed an average of 3.3 servings daily, while men consumed an average of 2.6 servings a day.
All participants underwent a computed tomography (CT) scan 20 years later to assess the buildup of calcium on the walls of the heart's arteries - information that was used to calculate a coronary artery calcium score; the higher the score, the greater the risk for heart attack and other events related to coronary heart disease.
The researchers found that subjects who consumed the highest amount of fruits and vegetables in young adulthood were 26% less likely to have developed calcified coronary artery plaque 20 years later, compared with participants who ate the lowest amounts of fruits and vegetables as young adults.
The team believes their findings highlight the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables in young adulthood in order to benefit later-life heart health. Dr. Miedema says:
"People shouldn't assume that they can wait until they're older to eat healthy - our study suggests that what you eat as a young adult may be as important as what you eat as an older adult. Our findings support public health initiatives aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable intake as part of a healthy dietary pattern."
The researchers conclude that further studies are warranted in order to pinpoint what other foods consumed in young adulthood may influence heart health later on.
While fruits and vegetables are good for health, a study reported by Medical News Today earlier this year suggested men's sperm quality could be at risk if they eat fruits and vegetables with high pesticide residue.