By Sheliza Lalani, MD, MPH
When it comes to strokes, the old adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" might be half true.
A new review of 20 studies suggests that eating 200 grams of fruit a day - the equivalent of two small apples - can cut your stroke risk by almost a third. Your stroke risk drops 11 percent with every 200 grams of vegetables consumed daily, according to the study, published today in the journal Stroke.
"A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is highly recommended because it meets micronutrient and macronutrient and fiber requirements without adding substantially to overall energy requirements," study author Dr. Yan Qu of Qingdao Municipal Hospital in China said in a statement. In particular, Yan told ABC News, "citrus fruits, leafy vegetables, apples and pears" seem to be linked to a lower risk of stroke.
The findings held up even when the researchers accounted for other factors like smoking, alcohol, high blood pressure, physical activity and body mass index.
Nutrition experts not involved with the study said the research offers one more important reason to load up on fruits and vegetables.
"This is a direct refutation of all the recent 'eat more meat, butter, cheese' nonsense," said Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center. "This study delivers a very clear message: more vegetables and fruits in your diet equals less risk of stroke in your lifetime. Period."
Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the new study may serve as a reminder for health professionals to more strongly urge patients to change their diets.
"This article makes me really confident to tell people to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and to eat them their entire life long," Ayoob said. "Even if you were 7 or 70 years old, you need to eat fruits and vegetables. Pick the ones you like and the lower your risk will be of stroke."
"I love research studies that show the power of eating regular good food," Ayoob added.
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of disability. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American adults eat on average only 1.1 fruits and 1.6 vegetables a day - less than half of the daily recommended intake.
We know from past research that eating fruits and vegetables can lower your blood pressure, body mass index, total cholesterol and total body inflammation - all factors related to stroke. So what this new review does is add one more reason to crunch into that apple and clean your plate of those vegetables. It's good medicine for stroke prevention, and best of all it requires no prescription.