A new study has found that women who eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables as young adults have a significantly reduced risk of artery plaque build-up in the future. Although previous research has shown that eating a high proportion of fruits and vegetables during middle-age can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, the link between consuming these during young adulthood and risk of heart disease later in life was uncertain. The results were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session and Expo.

Michael D. Miedema, MD, MPH, from the Minneapolis Heart Institute, and colleagues evaluated 2,508 participants from the ongoing Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which begin in the mid-1980s. Women who reported eating the most fruits and vegetables (8–9 servings/day, 2,000-calorie diet) in their 20s were 40% less likely to have calcified plaque in their arteries in their 40s, compared with those who ate the least amount (3–4 servings/day) during the same time frame. Smoking, exercise, consumption of red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and other dietary and cardiovascular risk factors linked to atherosclerosis were all controlled for in this study.

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While a high proportion of fruit and vegetable consumption did not show the same benefits for men, the association continued for women even as other lifestyle behaviors such as current-day diets were accounted for in the study. Additional research is needed to further evaluate the relationship between fruits, vegetables, and cardiovascular disease in both men and women.

For more information visit the American Academy of Cardiology website.