Heart disease is the primary cause of death in the United States, and stroke is the third leading cause of death, according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1). Heart disease is a general term for cardiovascular disease, which refers to the class of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, and usually implies the diseases affected by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty plaques and eventual hardening of the artery walls due to cholesterol buildup. Fats that we eat naturally travel through the bloodstream, and are deposited in tissues for various vital functions. But when we eat too much unhealthy fat, namely saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol, these fats may be deposited in the artery walls. Over time, these deposits, or plaques, grow and may block blood flow to the heart or brain, which may cause death of these tissues. When this blockage happens, it is referred to as a heart attack or stroke.
The American Heart Association affirms that many factors contribute to cardiovascular disease, including diet, activity level, age, and genetic makeup (2). However, including more fruits and vegetables in the diet may help fend off heart attack or stroke (3). Fruits and vegetables carry fiber, potassium, and phytochemicals that fight damage caused by atherosclerosis (4). Likewise, diets that replace energy-dense foods with fruits and vegetables are usually lower in fat and calories, which may help prevent weight gain – another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Those with a strong family history of heart disease or stroke should seek medical advice and follow a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts, and limit sodium, fat, and excess calories. Likewise, following a physical activity regimen approved by your doctor is a key ingredient in a heart healthy lifestyle (5). For more information about diseases affecting the heart and circulation, visit the website of the American Heart Association at http://www.americanheart.org.
So how do pears fit into your heart-healthy diet? Pears are a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and contain other antioxidants. They are rich in fiber and contain phytochemicals that may work synergistically to fight cardiovascular disease (4). Likewise, pears are sodium-free, fat-free, and cholesterol-free – important factors in a heart-healthy diet (5). So include pears as part of your fruit and vegetable intake every day for a burst of sweet satisfaction that will please your taste buds, and your doctor!
Linda M. Oude Griep, W.M. Monique Verschuren, Daan Kromhout, Marga C. Ocké. Colors of Fruit and Vegetables and 10-Year Incidence of Stroke. Stroke 2011;42:00-00.
He FJ, Nowson CA, MacGregor GA. Fruit and vegetable consumption and stroke: meta-analysis of cohort studies. Lancet 2006; 367: 320-326.
In other research, the diets of 90,513 men and 141,536 women were observed and amounts of fruits and vegetables eaten were directly linked to stroke risk. For each additional serving of fruit, stroke risk was decreased by 11%! Although also protective, additional vegetable servings only decreased stroke risk by 3% each. This dose-response relationship suggests that fruit, and fruit and vegetable consumption, decrease the risk of stroke. So eat more fruit!
Dauchet L, Amoyel P, Dallongeville J. Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Neurology 2005;65(8):1193-1197.
In a study of 72,113 women free of illness, over 18 years 1154 died of cardiovascular death and 3139 died from cancer. The prudent diet was associated with a 28% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, and 17% lower risk of all-cause mortality. Generally, the Western diet was associated with 22% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease, 16% from cancer, and 21% of all causes of death. Thus, eating a healthful diet high in plant foods and lean meats may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality.
Heidemann C, Schulze MB, Franco OH, van Dam RM, Mantzoros CS, Hu FB. Dietary patterns and risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes in a prospective cohort of women. Circulation 2008;118(3):230-237.
In a similar population, 69,017 women aged 38 to 63 years followed either a prudent or Western diet. Those following the Western eating plan on average ate up to 1.5 servings of fruit and up to 3.2 servings of vegetables per day. On the other hand, those following a more prudent plan ate up to 2.4 and 5.3 servings respectively. Overall, those following the Western plan were 1.64 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease (CHD). On the other hand, those following a more prudent eating plan had an inverse relationship with CHD; meaning, the more healthful foods eaten, the lower the risk for CHD! In a follow-up study of 71,768 women and risk for stroke, those who followed the Western diet most closely, had 1.58 times the risk of having a stroke compared to those who ate a more varied Western diet. Likewise, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a negative association with stroke. These findings suggest that including more fruits and vegetables in the diet as part of an overall healthy diet is protective against coronary heart disease and stroke.
Fung TT, Willett WC, Stampfer JM, Manson JE, Hu FB. Dietary patterns and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Archives of Internal Medicine 2001;161:1857-1862.
Boekholdt SM, Meuwese MC, Day NE, Luben R, Welch A, Wareham NJ, Khaw KT. Plasma concentrations of ascorbic acid and C-reactive protein, and risk of future coronary artery disease, an apparently health men and women: the EPIC-Norfolk prospective population study. British Journal of Nutrition 2006;96:516-522.
Pereira MA, et al. Dietary fiber and risk of coronary heart disease. Archives of Internal Medicine 2004;164:370-376.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Health Statics, Fastats. Available online here.
2. American Heart Association, Risk Factors and Coronary Heart Disease. Available online here.
3. American Heart Association, Risk Factors you can Change. Available online here.
4. Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Revision 2006: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006;114:82-96. Available online here.
5. American Heart Association, Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. Available online here.
This site is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to treat any illness or condition. If you have questions or concerns about your health, seek advice from your physician.