WEDNESDAY, April 6, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Eating fresh fruit regularly may help prevent heart attacks and strokes, a large study out of China suggests.
Adults who ate fresh fruit, such as apples and oranges, every day had about a one-third reduced risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke, compared to those who rarely or never ate fruit, researchers found.
"Fruit consumption is important for your cardiovascular health," said lead researcher Dr. Liming Li, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, in Beijing.
Study participants who ate fruit most often had lower blood pressure and blood sugar than less frequent fruit eaters, which may account for the reduced risk for heart attacks and strokes, Li said.
Due to the nature of the study, however, it could not prove that fruit consumption caused the lower risk of heart attack and stroke, just that there was an association, Li said.
For the study, Li and colleagues collected data on more than 500,000 adults, ages 30 to 79, between 2004 and 2009. None had a history of heart disease.
Fewer than one in five ate fruit on a daily basis. Over seven years, those who ate the equivalent of roughly a half cup of fruit a day had significantly lower risks of major cardiovascular diseases, the study found.
The report was published April 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Two U.S. experts weighed in on the study findings.
"Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of avoidable and premature death globally," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Previous studies have suggested that diets high in fruit are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. However, few of these studies have involved Asian countries, he noted.
"Further studies are needed to determine if eating more fruit will result in meaningful health gains," Fonarow said.
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, said fruit is a great addition to your diet.
"Fruit is sweet, delicious and readily available," she said. "It is a terrific source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other healthy plant compounds."
Also, she said, "fiber in fruits helps our gastrointestinal tract stay healthy, and other ingredients in fruit help keep our brain cells functioning."
Fruit is eaten less often in China than in the United States and United Kingdom, and is usually consumed raw, the researchers said.
The most commonly eaten fruits in China are apples, pears and oranges, Li said. America's favorite fresh fruits are apples and bananas, Heller said.
To get more of the healthful compounds found in fruits, Heller recommends eating a wide variety, including apricots, berries, grapes, kiwis, melons, peaches and tangerines.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips for adding fruit to your diet.