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Study casts doubt on positive effect of vegetables



Eating a diet rich in vegetables may not protect against stroke as previously thought, new research suggests.

Researchers said that previous studies may not have taken into account lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking and meat intake, as well as socioeconomic factors.

Findings from a new large-scale UK study show that eating lots of vegetables is unlikely to affect cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk.

However, experts stress that maintaining a balanced diet and healthy weight remains important for reducing the risk of major diseases.

Study author Dr Qi Feng, a researcher at the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, said:

“Our large study did not find evidence for a protective effect of vegetable intake on the occurrence of CVD.

“Instead, our analyses show that the seemingly protective effect of vegetable intake against CVD risk is very likely to be accounted for by bias from residual confounding factors, related to differences in socioeconomic situation and lifestyle.”

Researchers used data from 399,586 people enrolled in the UK Biobank study, 4.5 per cent of whom went on to develop CVD.

At the beginning of the study, the participants were asked about their diet and lifestyle, as well as their medical and reproductive history.

The researchers analysed the participants’ answers about their daily vegetable consumption, alongside how likely they were to be admitted to hospital from stroke, heart attack or major CVD, and their risk of death.

The researchers also included factors such as physical activity and socioeconomic status.

The researchers assessed whether other factors may lead to a misleading association between CVD risk and vegetable consumption.

The research revealed that participants with the highest vegetable intake had a 15 per cent lower risk of dying from CVD.

However, this effect was weakened by 80 per cent when possible socio-economic, nutritional, and health- and medicine-related factors were taken into account.

Future studies should further assess whether particular vegetables or their method of cooking affect CVD risk, the researchers said.

Prof Naveed Sattar, professor of Metabolic Medicine, University of Glasgow, said:

“In short this paper should in no way change advice to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

“Many living in the UK fall well short of this, sadly, and more needs to be done to encourage better intake of vegetables.

“In fact, I suspect we may have underestimated the importance of a healthy diet on health and disease in general.

“We are good at treating with preventative drugs, but the UK needs to up its game in helping people improve lifestyles, including diet and activity – that is the big goal going forward post pandemic.

“How we best do this, though, requires more thought from Government and health agencies.”