Eating Vegetables May Not Protect Against Heart Disease
- A new study found eating cooked vegetables has little impact on lowering your risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular issues.
- Researchers did find that eating raw vegetables showed a slight improvement in cardiovascular risk.
- Experts argue you still need to eat vegetables for a healthy, well-rounded diet, but there is more to learn.
Experts have long touted the importance of eating more vegetables and/or greens for a healthy diet, but new research is saying otherwise. A recent study found that though raw veggies can have small heart health benefits, eating cooked vegetables doesn’t reduce your risk for heart disease—but experts are quick to disagree.
The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, analyzed the diets of nearly 400,000 adults in the United Kingdom. The study used data from the UK Biobank, which was designed to see the connection between the environment and common diseases. Participants were asked to self-report how many vegetables they ate on average and then scientists followed up with them for 12 years, tracking cardiovascular incidents and mortality.
But don’t toss out your vegetables just yet. Heart health experts aren’t quick to jump on the bandwagon of a veggie-free lifestyle. The compiled data found that on average the participants ate only five tablespoons of vegetables a day—equivalent to less than a half-cup. Compare that to the United States Department of Agriculture’s guidelines for two to three cups per day, or about 48 tablespoons and the research’s insights seem a bit less impactful.
Elizabeth Klodas, M.D., cardiologist and founder of Step One Foods says the main issue she has with this study is the serving sizes being reported. “Dietary recall studies are notoriously poor for assessing true dietary intake,” she says. Now throw in the confusing element of measuring vegetables in tablespoons, instead of cups, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Dr. Klodas also adds that the study didn’t identify what type of vegetable participants were consuming (she noted, the study included tomatoes as a vegetable, even though they’re considered a fruit) or how the cooked vegetables were prepared. For example, a steamed plate of vegetables will have a different impact on your health than a plate of fried vegetables covered in cheese sauce, she adds.
Additionally, the study didn’t consider what else the participants consumed in their diet. The research specifies they adjusted for socioeconomic status, health status, and lifestyle factors—but failed to report on the way the vegetables were prepared and what else the participants consumed during the day when they weren’t eating their greens.
Contrary to the new findings, human experience leading up to this point has found vegetables to be a star in our overall health. For example, look at the blue zones, the identified areas of the world where populations have lived well beyond 100 years old, explains Dr. Klodas. “The people who live the longest are based on whole-food, plant-based approach,” she says. “Vegetables are a component of that, and beans and greens fall into that scenario as well.”
Alternatively, Adam Saltman, M.D., Ph.D., a triple board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and the Chief Medical Officer of Eko, a digital health company, found the research to be rather thought-provoking. He suggests the need to ask more questions in research moving forward, like how cooked vegetables versus raw vegetables are digested and what their nutrient bioavailability is.
“On one level, this is not new news. We have known that increased veggie intake decreases overall cardiovascular risk for some time. However, the fact that this holds only for raw vegetables is intriguing,” Dr. Saltman says. “It may provide important insights into what it is about vegetables that makes them protective and maybe eventually understand how specific veggie components work.”
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