A new study reinforces the idea that it’s never too late to start eating your veggies – especially ones like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
Australian researchers who examined nearly 1,000 women ages 70 and older found that so-called cruciferous vegetables may be particularly helpful in lowering the risk for heart disease.
“There is a wealth of evidence linking diets high in vegetables with lower risk of heart disease and stroke,” said the study’s lead researcher Lauren Blekkenhorst, of the School of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Western Australia in Perth. “However, there is little evidence on specific types of vegetables with subclinical measures of atherosclerosis, the major underlying cause of most heart attacks and strokes.”
The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, examined the association between thickness of women’s neck arteries and severity of plaque buildup within them (atherosclerosis) with total vegetable intake as well as intake of specific vegetables.
Researchers found that independent of lifestyle and cardiovascular risk factors, women who ate more vegetables – cruciferous vegetables in particular – had healthier carotid arteries.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure what gives these cruciferous vegetables more of a protective effect than other vegetables, but they hypothesize it is because cruciferous vegetables are packed with nutrients and phytochemicals but are low in energy.
One outside expert, however, cautioned that it was too early to definitively say cruciferous vegetables are the most beneficial.
“The message should not be that just adding cruciferous vegetables to any diet will decrease heart disease risk,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
Rather, eating all kinds of vegetables can help decrease heart disease risk, she said. “These data add additional strength to what we have been encouraging – consume a diet rich in vegetables for the best health outcomes.”
Blekkenhorst said she focused the study on older women because risk factors for vascular disease are different in men and women, and because cardiovascular disease is often thought of as a “male” disease, leading to undertesting and undertreatment in older women.
The researchers are now exploring whether there are similar health benefits in older Australian men, as well as the different phytochemicals and nutrients in cruciferous vegetables that might explain the added advantage.
Blekkenhorst said that as the population ages and life expectancy increases, it’s important to determine how dietary choices around vegetable intake may affect overall vascular health and survival.