A European study investigating the links between diet and disease has found that people who consume more fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of dying from ischemic heart disease – the most common form of heart disease and one of the leading causes of death in Europe. However, thThe Revolting Vegetablese authors point out that a higher fruit and vegetable intake occurs among people with other healthy eating habits and lifestyles, and that these factors could also be associated with the lower risk of dying from IHD. The study is published online today (Wednesday 19 January) in the European Heart Journal .
Data analyzed from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Heart study has shown that people who ate at least eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 22% lower risk of dying from IHD than did those who consumed fewer than three portions a day. A portion weighed 80 grams, equal to a small banana, a medium apple, or a small carrot.
Dr. Francesca Crowe of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, UK, and the first author of the paper by the EPIC study collaborators, said: “This study involved over 300,000 people in eight different European countries, with 1,636 deaths from IHD. It shows a 4% reduced risk of dying from IHD for each additional portion of fruit and vegetables consumed above the lowest intake of two portions. In other words, the risk of a fatal IHD for someone eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day would be 4% lower compared to someone consuming four portions a day, and so on up to eight portions or more.”
Ischemic heart disease (IHD) is characterized by reduced blood supply to the heart; people suffering from it can develop angina, chest pains and have a heart attack.
The EPIC study started in 1992 and recruited participants from a total of ten European countries  until 2000. For the analysis of IHD deaths, data from eight countries for people aged between 40 and 85 were used. Participants answered questions about their diet at the time of entry to the study and other questions about health, socio-economic status and life-style, such as smoking, drinking and exercise habits. They were followed-up for an average of nearly eight and a half years.
The researchers found that the average intake of fruit and vegetables was five portions a day; people in Greece, Italy and Spain ate more, and those in Sweden ate less.
When analyzing the data, the researchers made allowances for confounding factors such as differences in lifestyles and eating habits. However, the study could be limited by errors in measuring correctly people’s fruit and vegetable intake as well as other aspects of their diet. In addition, the study had a higher proportion of women, which might not be generalizable to the wider European population.