Study: An Apple a Day May Keep Stroke at Bay

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Eating white-fleshed fruits like apples and pears was associated with a significant dip in stroke risk, finds a large new study by Dutch researchers.

Although recent studies have touted vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables as being the most healthful — orange sweet potatoes, green kale and bright blueberries, for instance — it was humbly pale-fleshed apples and pears that came out as big winners in the new study.

The researchers analyzed data on more than 20,000 men and women aged 20 to 65, who were healthy and free of cardiovascular disease at the start of the 10-year study. Based on questionnaires filled out by the participants, researchers tracked their intake of fruits and vegetables by color: green (broccoli, kale, spinach and other leafy greens), orange/yellow (citrus fruits, carrots, peaches), red/purple (tomatoes, beets, cherries) and white (apples, including applesauce, pears, bananas, cauliflower, cucumber, chicory).

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Overall, the white category was mostly widely consumed of the color groups, accounting for 36% of all produce eaten. The most common foods in that group were apples, pears and applesauce.

The investigators followed the participants for a decade, logging the number of strokes people suffered. There were 233. When the rate of stroke was compared to the participants’ diet, researchers found no association with the amount of brightly colored fruits and veggies they ate, a bit of a surprise considering that the phytochemicals that lend these foods their hue have been linked with good heart health and a lower risk of cancer.

Participants who consumed 171 grams of white-fleshed produce daily, however — the equivalent of one medium to large apple — were 52% less likely to have suffered a stroke than people who ate less than 78 grams of white produce. Overall, for every 25 grams of white fruit consumed each day, participants saw a 9% reduction in stroke risk.

It’s not known why white fruits may be associated with such a dramatic effect on stroke, and the authors cautioned that the findings need to be replicated before making any recommendations specifically about white fruits. But it’s well known that diets rich in fiber — found in apples and pears — contribute to overall cardiovascular health. And as the Well Blog’s Tara Parker-Pope notes: “Both fruits also contain a number of nutrients and phytochemicals, including the flavonol quercetin, which may have anti-inflammatory properties.”

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Like other research that relies on self-reported questionnaires, the current study is limited by people’s potentially faulty recollections about what they ate. Still, the study was large and population based, and tends to support some widely accepted nutritional advice: eating fruits and vegetables is good for your health.

The study was published Thursday in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association and was funded by combined grants from Dutch and European public health agencies as well as the Dutch Product Board for Horticulture.

Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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