February is American Heart Month, and this week, I’m sharing how two Stemilt fruits – apples and pears – promote heart health.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cardiovascular (heart) disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the U.S. each year, representing approximately 1 in 4 deaths. American Heart Month has been celebrated every February since 1963 to raise awareness of this all too common disease. As you’d expect, a healthy diet is among the CDC’s list of strategies to improve one’s heart health, which specifically lists limiting sodium, eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and choosing foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Apples and pears fulfill all of these requirements and more!
Though they come from different trees, apples and pears are closely related, so it’s not surprising that they share some of the same nutritional characteristics that make them great heart healthy foods. Both fruits are naturally free of fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and low in calories. They are both excellent sources of dietary fiber, which protects the heart by lowering blood pressure and reducing LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels. One medium pear has 6 grams of fiber, while a medium sized apple has 4 grams of fiber. A Harvard study of more than 335,000 adults found that for every 10 grams of fiber eaten, heart attack risk decreased by 14% and the overall risk from dying of coronary heart disease decreased by 27%. Additionally, the type of fiber in apples and pears – soluble fiber – helps people feel fuller, longer, which may aid in weight loss. Of course, maintaining a healthy weight is vital in heart disease prevention.
The high concentration of antioxidants found in apples and pears are also beneficial to the heart. Antioxidants are molecules that help prevent free radicals from damaging the body’s cells during a process called oxidation. Over time, oxidative stress can lead to the onset of many chronic diseases, including heart disease. Polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in apples, is especially protective to the heart according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Functional Foods. The study found that participants who ate an apple a day for 4 weeks lowered blood levels of LDL (or bad cholesterol) by as much as 40% in comparison to those who did not.
Both apples and pears are good sources of vitamin C (a medium apple has 14% the daily recommended value; a medium pear has 12%), which has antioxidant properties that may help protect against coronary artery disease. A study of nearly 1,000 people with no history of heart attack or stroke found that those with the highest intake of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) from fruits and vegetables had lower body mass index (BMI), lower blood pressure, lower C-Reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), and higher levels of good (HDL) cholesterol – all of which help promote a healthy heart. Those with the highest ascorbic acid intake had a 33% lower risk of developing coronary artery disease.
The fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants found in apples and pears make both fruits great foods to include as part of a heart healthy diet. We recommend eating the whole fruit – skin and all – as the skin contains most of the valuable antioxidants found in apples and pears.
Now, it’s your turn to share! Aside from apples and pears, what foods do you enjoy to maintain a healthy heart? Tell me in the comments section below!