Eating fruit every day can reduce the risk of heart and artery disease by up to 40%, a study has found.
Compared with avoiding fruit altogether, daily consumption also cut the overall risk of death by nearly a third in at-risk individuals, said researchers.
While previous studies have shown the benefits of fruit and vegetables to heart health, few have focused on fruit alone.
The new research led by scientists at Oxford University involved almost half a million people from China taking part in a large health and lifestyle investigation.
Fruit consumption frequency was recorded at the start of the seven year follow-up period. The number of occasions people ate fruit ranged between never, one to three days per week, four to six days per week, and daily.
Around 18% of participants consumed fruit daily while 6.3% avoided all fruit.
The findings showed that compared with consuming none, eating fruit every day cut the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 25 – 40%.
A dose response was also seen. The more fruit that was consumed, the more the risk of CVD fell.
Lead researcher Dr Huaidong Du, from Oxford University, said: “Our data clearly shows that eating fresh fruit can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, including ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke … And not only that, the more fruit you eat the more your CVD risk goes down.
“It does suggest that eating more fruit is beneficial compared to less or no fruit.”
She pointed out that the pattern of CVD is different in China and Western countries.
In China, stroke was the main cause of cardiovascular illness whereas in the West IHD, which can lead to heart attacks, was more common.
The study, presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Barcelona, Spain, showed that eating fruit also had a significant impact on blood pressure.
Blood pressure readings were up to 4.1 millimetres of mercury lower for people who ate fruit every day than for those who never ate fruit.
In a separate analysis, the researchers looked at associations between fruit consumption and death rate in more than 61,000 patients with CVD or high blood pressure at the start of the study.
Compared with eating no fruit, daily fruit consumption cut the overall risk of death for this group of at-risk patients by 32%
It also reduced the risk of dying from ischaemic heart disease by 27% and from stroke by around 40%.
Principal study investigator Professor Zhengmeng Chen, also from Oxford University, said: “Patients with CVD and hypertension (high blood pressure) should also be encouraged to consume more fresh fruit.
“Many western populations have experienced a rapid decrease in CVD mortality during the past several decades, especially stroke mortality since the early 1950s, for reasons that are not yet fully explained. Improved access to fresh fruit may well have contributed importantly to that decline.”
Tracy Parker, heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation, which contributed to the research, said: “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that shows the more fruit and vegetables we eat the better our heart health. Even eating just one more portion a day helped lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, which should give us all that extra incentive.
“This research only looked at the benefits of fresh fruit, but if you’re struggling to meet your five a day, remember fresh, frozen, dried or tinned in juice all count. Try adding fresh fruit to your cereal, keeping an apple in your bag for a snack on the go, or having tinned fruit in juice for dessert for quick and easy ways to up your intake.”