It's time to amend that "apple a day" aphorism: Tomatoes and cranberries keep the doctor away, too. New research shows that incorporating these three red, round fruits into your daily diet can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent. Indeed, diet can have a tremendous impact on heart health — and should be the first line of defense when treating high cholesterol or high blood pressure, two of the biggest risk factors for heart disease.
"A heart healthy diet is always the first step," says Michael Blaha, M.D., director of clinical research for the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. "In some patients we can see a dramatic improvement in cholesterol from diet alone." Fortunately, these antioxidant-rich fruits are as tasty as they are healthy.
A new study by Tufts University scientists in Boston showed that eating lycopene-rich foods such as tomatoes more than five times a week over an 11-year period reduced coronary disease risk by 26 percent. Lycopene is an antioxidant compound that gives tomatoes and certain other fruits and vegetables their color. It's best to eat tomatoes cooked, though. "The heating process allows lycopene to be better absorbed," says Gerard E. Mullin, M.D., of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
An apple a day can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by as much as 40 percent, according to a new, small Ohio State University study. Also, the Iowa Women's Health Study, which tracked more than 34,000 postmenopausal women for 18 years, found a link between apple eating and a lowered risk of dying from heart disease. Be sure to munch on the fruit rather than drink juice; the peels house the most antioxidants.
Drinking 3 cups of cranberry juice daily can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels by 10 percent and reduce heart disease by 40 percent, a study at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania showed. Plus, this juice decreased diet-caused atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) by preventing plaque from forming. If you can't quite stomach three glasses of cranberry juice a day, one or two have benefits, too.