Healthy Aging Column – Seniors – What You Eat Can Help Your Heart

February is National Heart Month. There is no better time to ponder what you eat and to consider a few easy pointers to lessen your risk of both heart disease and stroke.

Research in the past two or three years has looked at the link between fruit and vegetable intake. Recently, researchers have further substantiated the fact that people who eat the highest number of servings of fruit and vegetables have lower risk for heart disease. When multiple studies are tallied, the message is clear: those who eat four servings a day had lower risk, but those who ate eight servings a day produced an even further decrease in risk.

The studies found that those who ate the most were older, had healthier living habits and smoked less than people who did not eat as much produce. Seniors reading this should give themselves a pat on the back! Although the lower occurrence of heart attacks can be partly explained by health factors other than diet, it was also independently related to fruit and vegetable intake.

Green, leafy vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C, such as kiwi, orange, grapefruit and berries, appeared to contribute the most protection. "Eat 5 A Day" has been the national campaign, but this new research shows that may not be enough. For heart health, "Strive for 8" may be a better guide.

We have excellent evidence that diet can reduce blood pressure and that eating a diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables substantially lowers blood pressure in people with or without high blood pressure. Combine extra servings of fruits and vegetables with two or three servings of low-fat dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese) and the results can be remarkable. Lowering blood pressure has a major effect on a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

Some ideas to add more fruits and vegetables to your daily meal plan are as simple as slicing fruit on your cereal, adding raisins to your oatmeal, adding dried cranberries or sliced banana to your pancakes or using applesauce and berries in your muffins. Snacks that you can easily carry with you include dried fruit or a can of juice, or you can munch on raw vegetables.

For lunch, add sliced tomato, lettuce and sliced peppers to your cheese sandwich or enjoy a vegetable soup with cottage cheese and a piece of fruit. Evening meals can always include a salad you enjoy, as well as cooked vegetables such as broccoli and a potato. Pizza lends itself to extra vegetable toppings so try adding fresh tomatoes, zucchini, artichoke hearts, spinach or mushrooms. Whether you buy a pizza already prepared or make your own, a few extra toppings add appeal and will enhance your heart’s health.

So what you eat can help your heart. This kind of eating is in line with the latest research and is as simple as peeling a banana. Just make fruits and vegetable part of every meal and enjoy the varieties available all year round. Try a new fruit or vegetable each week and experiment with your creative ideas to add more fruits and vegetables to your meals.

For more information about this topic, contact the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in your county. Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available from Colorado State University by visiting the Web at and clicking on Info Online, then on Consumer, then scrolling to Healthy Aging.