THURSDAY, Jan. 26, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Three servings of fruits and vegetables a day reduce the risk of stroke, but five or more servings have an even more protective effect, an new analysis of studies shows.
And it's probably true that eight to 10, or even more, servings of fruits and vegetables are yet more effective stroke-preventers, said Feng He, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at St. George's University in London, England, and lead author of the report in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal The Lancet.
He led a group that reviewed data from eight studies involving over 250,000 people reporting on their fruit and vegetable intake. The risk of stroke was 11 percent lower for those who had three to five servings per day, compared to those who had less than three. But it was 26 percent lower for those who had more than five daily servings.
"There have been many epidemiological studies that showed an association," He said. "What we didn't know was the size of the association."
The average intake of fruits and vegetables in developed countries such as the United States is three servings a day, He noted. While the study was not designed to determine the effect of much higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, "an overall increase in intake of the majority of fruits and vegetables would probably be beneficial in reducing the risk not only of stroke but also of other cardiovascular diseases and cancer," He said.
Fruits and vegetables are good for the heart and other parts of the body for several reasons, said Dr. Richard L. Harvey, medical director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
"One reason why having more fruits and vegetables is good is that if you eat them, you are likely to eat less beef and other high-fat foods such as other meats and desserts," Harvey explained. "Plus, the fiber in fruits and vegetables bind to cholesterol and help remove it from the blood."
What's "a serving"? That depends on what is being eaten, said Harvey, whose position as medical director of the institute involves helping people recover from strokes -- including giving them advice on diet.
"A piece of fruit is a serving," Harvey said. "Half a cup of vegetables is a serving. A salad can be a couple of servings." Even a glass of orange juice can qualify, he said.
The important point is to establish a consistent eating pattern, Harvey said. "Having been a vegetarian myself, I know that once you start wanting to eat beans and the like, you have less desire for meats, sugars and fatty desserts," he said. "Getting into a habit of how you eat properly can change your lifestyle."
The latest dietary guidelines for Americans are available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.