A preliminary study presented at the ongoing annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Baltimore showed that not eating enough fruits and vegetables may lead to millions of deaths from stroke and heart disease each year.
The research findings estimated that about one in seven cardiovascular deaths could be attributed to low fruit intake and about one in 12 cardiovascular deaths attributed to low vegetable intake.
Low fruit consumption is linked with about 1.8 million cardiovascular deaths in 2010, and low vegetable consumption is linked with about one million deaths that year, according to the study.
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber, potassium, magnesium, antioxidants and phenolics, which can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve health and diversity of good bacteria in the digestive tract.
The researchers defined optimal fruit intake as 300 grams per day, equivalent to roughly two small apples, and defined optimal intake of vegetables as 400 grams per day, equivalent to about three cups of raw carrots.
They estimated average national intakes in over 110 countries (with more than 80 percent of the world population) in 2010 and compared them with data on deaths relating to cardiovascular diseases in each country that year.
They found that low fruit intake resulted in about 1.3 million deaths from stroke and over 520,000 deaths from coronary heart disease, while low vegetable intake resulted in about 200,000 deaths from stroke and more than 800,000 deaths from coronary heart disease.
"Our findings indicate the need for population-based efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption throughout the world," said the study's lead author Victoria Miller, a postdoctoral researcher at Tufts University.