Poor fruit, vegetable intake responsible for millions of CV deaths

Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption contributes to nearly 2 million CV-related deaths each year, according to research presented at Nutrition 2019, the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting, in Baltimore.  

It’s not news that fruits and vegetables are good for us—they’re loaded with fiber, potassium, magnesium, antioxidants and phenolics that help keep our blood pressure and cholesterol in check, and they improve the health and diversity of bacteria in our digestive tracts. But not everyone prioritizes fruit and vegetable intake, and, as Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, and colleagues found in their study, that neglect has significant consequences.

For their work, Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and his team estimated average national intakes of fruits and vegetables using diet surveys and food availability data from 113 countries representing 82% of the world’s population. They combined that information with country-specific mortality data and existing knowledge of the CV risk associated with inadequate produce consumption.

Based on dietary guidelines and past studies, Mozaffarian et al. defined optimal fruit intake as 300 grams per day (the equivalent of two small apples) and optimal vegetable and legume intake as 400 grams per day (the equivalent of three cups of raw carrots). They found certain countries, including those in South Asia, East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, had overall low fruit intake and high rates of associated stroke deaths, while countries with a low vegetable intake, including some in Central Asia and Oceania, had high rates of corresponding coronary heart disease.

Using data from 2010, the researchers estimated that suboptimal fruit consumption results in nearly 1.3 million deaths from stroke and more than 520,000 deaths from coronary heart disease worldwide each year. Suboptimal vegetable intake correlated to an estimated 200,000 deaths from stroke and 800,000 deaths from coronary heart disease each year.

In 2010 alone, Mozaffarian and colleagues calculated that low fruit intake contributed to 1.8 million cardiovascular deaths, while low vegetable intake contributed to 1 million deaths. The toll of suboptimal fruit intake was nearly double that of vegetables, suggesting our dietary guidelines could use an update.

“Global nutrition priorities have traditionally focused on providing sufficient calories, vitamin supplementation and reducing additives like salt and sugar,” Mozaffarian said in a release from the American Society for Nutrition. “These findings indicate a need to expand the focus to increasing availability and consumption of protective foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes—a positive message with tremendous potential for improving global health.”