People who eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables and moderate to high amounts of protein and fiber may be at higher risk of developing heart disease, according to a new study.
The study was published online March 4 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which collects health and nutritional information from people over age 16.
People who ate at least 2,000 calories a day and consumed 2,500-plus servings of fruits and veggies had a 20 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who ate the same amount of fruit and vegetables but consumed less than 2,200 calories a week.
That’s equivalent to consuming about four times as many fruits and two-thirds as many vegetables a week, the researchers wrote.
People with higher intakes of fruits had a higher risk, and those with lower intakes had a lower risk, of dying from cardiovascular diseases.
The risk was highest among people who ate more than 400 calories a night.
“We can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by eating more fruits and fruits and veggie foods,” said study author Dr. Andrew W. Smith, a researcher in the Division of Cardiovascular and Vascular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“That’s what the research shows.”
About 9 percent of U.S. adults are considered to have cardiovascular disease.
People at the highest risk for heart disease are also at higher risks for cancer, stroke and diabetes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have a family history of heart problems, such as having a high blood pressure, are at higher overall risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes than others.
For people with type 2 diabetes, a blood sugar that is too high, the risk for stroke is increased.
The new study was one of the first to look at the impact of a healthy diet on heart health.
The current recommendations are based on studies that found eating more fruit and vegetable foods may reduce the number of deaths from heart disease.
However, the research found that the benefits of eating more foods that were high in antioxidants, including vitamins and minerals, are less clear.
“There is a strong need for more studies to confirm these findings and develop recommendations for people who are most at risk,” said Dr. Mary Jane Lasky, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Boston Medical Center.
In addition to reducing heart disease risk, fruits and vegetable consumption also can help protect against diabetes, stroke, obesity and other chronic diseases.
“In general, people who eat fruits and other vegetables may have fewer chronic disease risk factors, including type 2, hypertension and high blood cholesterol,” said Lasker.
“These include hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke as well as type 2 and obesity.”
For people who already have type 2 or type 3 diabetes, fruits may also reduce the amount of insulin that people have to use to control blood sugar levels.
But fruits and carrots, which are low in calories, may be better choices for those with Type 2 or Type 3 diabetes.
And they may also help to reduce the risks of cardiovascular events, such heart attacks and strokes, that are common among people with diabetes.
“People with Type 1 diabetes have a greater risk of stroke and other types of heart attack,” said Wojciech Laskowski, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Colorado at Denver.
“This is something that we need to be very careful of.”
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.