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Pick of the crop: the best veggies for heart health

Friday, 06 September 2019

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Edith Cowan University researchers will get to the heart of which vegetables can best prevent cardiovascular disease thanks to a National Health and Medical Research grant worth almost $640,000.

Dr Lauren Blekkenhorst, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in ECU’s School of Medical & Health Sciences, has been awarded $639,725 over five years to identify which vegetables offer the most protection against heart attacks.

Vegetables key to preventing deaths

The research will build on Dr Blekkenhorst’s previous work, which found that eating vegetables high in nitrate, such as spinach, arugula and lettuce, may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 40 per cent.

“Heart disease claims the life of someone every 12 minutes in Australia, making it our leading cause of death,” Dr Blekkenhorst said.

“We know that eating a wide variety of vegetables can reduce your risk of heart disease. This grant will allow me to dig deeper and look at which specific vegetables provide the greatest reduction in risk.”

“I will also be exploring what particular compounds are in these vegetables that provide the protective effects against heart disease. There are many compounds in vegetables that we still don’t know much about.”

Which types are best?

Dr Blekkenhorst said her NHMRC-funded research would focus on three types of vegetables:

  • Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprout.
  • Allium vegetables – onions, garlic and leek.
  • Leafy green vegetables – spinach, arugula and lettuce.

“There are particular sulphur-containing compounds that are found almost exclusively in cruciferous and allium vegetables. There is some emerging evidence showing that these compounds may play a role in preventing heart disease.”

“Leafy green vegetables are a rich source of inorganic nitrate, which my previous research has shown may protect against heart disease.”

From association to causation

Dr Blekkenhorst said the first part of the project will involve studying the diets of more than 500,000 people around the world to establish which types of vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

“We will then establish causal effects using randomised controlled trials to show definitively which vegetables are the best for heart health.”

The NHMRC is Australia’s peak funding body for medical research.

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