Everyone knows the old adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine may actually support that. The research, conducted by scientists at University of Oxford and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences found that eating fresh fruit daily is significantly lowers the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world, this could have incredible implications.
Eating fresh, frozen, and/or processed fruit on a daily basis is common in Western societies, but it's a relative rarity in China. It has been assumed for a long time that the lack of fruit was having negative effects on the country's public health, but it hadn't been officially studied until now.
The researchers followed 500,000 people over 7 years to find out what effects dietary fruit had on their cardiovascular health. None of the participants had heart disease when the study began. In the end, they found that those who ate fresh fruit every single day were about 33% less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than those who didn't.
The study found that it didn't take a large amount of fruit to show a major difference; eating one apple or orange each day was enough to make a difference. Fruits are heart smart foods because they are low-calorie and nutrient-dense while providing tons of fiber.
It's worth noting that those who ate fruit regularly had other things in common as well, like higher education levels and incomes (which increases the odds of getting good medical care), lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of smoking. While the scientists accounted for these factors, they're all things that are good for the heart as well, and could complicate the results.
"If [fruit does protect against heart disease], then widespread consumption of fresh fruit in China could prevent about half a million cardiovascular deaths a year, including 200,000 before age 70, and even larger numbers of non-fatal strokes and heart attacks," senior author Zhengming Chen said in a press release.
There is still a lot more to learn about how eating fruit affects overall health, particularly in countries that eat much larger quantities of fruit and in processed forms.
Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away? It's definitely a good place to start.
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