Surprise. It’s heart health month and yet another scientist is telling you to eat more fruits and vegetables. What the fruit? Heart disease continues to be the number one killer of Americans, is on the rise, and is occurring at a much earlier stage in life. Your heart is like a 401K or retirement savings plan. There’s more beat for your buck the earlier and more frequently you invest. Data show that Americans start investing in a healthier diet as we enter our elderly years, which minimizes the growth potential of our investment. As individuals, we need to “heart” ourselves and our kids more by consuming and advocating for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. And here’s why…
There’s no doubt that Americans are living longer due to advances in modern medicine and technology – but what does that tail end of life look like for the majority of people? My father has seen more insulin vials, statins, and surgeons than he has green vegetables in the past year… and that’s a universal problem in our country. Prevention is the pillar for a better quality of life, and fruits and vegetables are its cornerstone. Candy is dandy but spending your retirement years traveling the world versus being in and out of a doctor’s office or hospital sounds like a better beat to me!
Heated discussions have recently occurred among health professionals about a range of dietary patterns – from vegan to low-carb and everything in between – and in all of these, fruits and vegetables should play a central role. In fact, at the recent meeting of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, health professionals advocated for vegan and low-carb diets as a solution for heart disease and a number of other conditions. They cite their own personal health struggles and the successes of many of their patients. This fight reminds me of the anti-GMO and pesticide feuds of the early 2000s because the science is getting lost in emotional debates. The bottom line is that current science suggests that it’s likely that specific dietary patterns are less likely linked to specific health outcomes, but rather the quality of the foods within those diets is the key. A vegan diet high in added sugar is likely just as detrimental to the heart as a low-carb diet high in saturated fat. Sounds reasonable, right?
On the bright side, there’s some berry good news that hopefully you’ll take to heart. Colorful berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries have superior effects regarding prevention of heart disease and there is strong evidence to support it. That’s not to say other fruits and vegetables aren’t equally as important. Citrus fruits seem to have protective effects against certain types of cancer, as do cruciferous vegetables… but this is heart health month.
Scientists recommend consuming half of your plate as fruits and vegetables. However, eating a rainbow each day means more than just getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet – it’s all about variety. That’s because fruits and vegetables vary not only in their essential nutrient compositions but also their bioactive contents. What the fruit is a bioactive? In the 1990’s scientists coined most of them as “antioxidants” since they prevented those ugly little “free radicals” from causing a lot of trouble in a Petri dish. Now we know that the majority of their heart health benefits are due to effects on much more complex biochemical processes. Most people resonate with the term “antioxidant”, so the term continues to be used to steer people in the right direction, even though it’s not very scientifically accurate. Mixtures of bioactives seem to work better together in regard to heart health and promotion of longevity. All the more reason to enjoy a diversity of fruits and vegetables… just don’t forget the berries!
It wouldn’t take much to turn heart health in this country around. You’ve always known the answer… Have the original plants America, fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Taylor Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN (www.drtaylorwallace.com) is the Principal & CEO of the Think Healthy Group, Inc. and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University. Dr. Wallace has recently been referred to as “the nation’s premier food and nutrition guru” by the Huffington Post, has published over 50 peer-reviewed studies, edited 6 university-level textbooks, is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Dietary Supplements and deputy editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.