The World's Healthiest Foods

Folate-rich Vegetables Lower Risk of Stroke and Cardiovascular Disease

Results gathered in a nationwide government health survey on almost 10,000 adults over a period of 19 years clearly show that people who consume diets high in folate have a much lower risk of stroke or cardiovascular disease than those who eat fewer folate-rich foods.

Study participants included 9,764 US men and women aged 25 to 74 years who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (NHEFS) and were free of cardiovascular disease when the study began in 1971, at which time their dietary intake of folate was assessed. These individuals were then followed over an average of 19 years, during which 926 strokes and 3,758 heart attacks were documented.

After the researchers made allowances for other established cardiovascular risk factors and dietary factors, the data showed that those who consumed the highest amounts of dietary folate (an average of 405 micrograms of folate per day) had a 21% lower risk for stroke and a 14% lower risk for any cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed the least (an average of 99.0 micrograms of folate per day). The researchers' take-away was: "Increasing dietary intake of folate from food sources may be an important approach to the prevention of cardiovascular disease in the US population."

Folate, also known as folic acid, is a B vitamin that is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system. Previous research has shown that diets high in folic acid can help reduce levels of homocysteine, an intermediate product of the methylation cycle that has been identified as a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Folate is necessary for certain reactions that occur in methylation, a biochemical event in which a methyl group--one atom of carbon and three atoms of hydrogen--is transferred from one molecule to another. Methylation reactions are the body's biochemical "spark plugs" in a wide variety of very important reactions in each and every cell and occur in a cycle. When the methylation cycle flows smoothly, the amino acid methionine is transformed into homocysteine, which is quickly converted into cysteine, and then back into methionine. Folate (along with vitamins B6 and B12) is essential for homocysteine's conversion into cysteine. When folate levels are low, blood levels of homocysteine rise--a situation that significantly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke since homocysteine promotes atherosclerosis by reducing the integrity of blood vessel walls and by interfering with the formation of collagen (the main protein in connective tissue). Elevations in homocysteine are found in approximately 20-40% of patients with heart disease. It has been estimated that consumption of 400 mcg of folate daily would reduce the number of heart attacks suffered by Americans each year by 10%--an estimate that this latest health survey forcefully supports.

Folate is abundant in many vegetables and legumes, all of which are members of the World's Healthiest Foods. Excellent sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, turnip and mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, celery, cabbage, zucchini, lentils, and Brussels sprouts. Very good sources include squash, cucumber, black beans, pinto beans, and garbanzo beans.

To learn more about this B-vitamin so critical for your cardiovascular health, click folate. For suggestions as to how to enjoy the folate-rich members of the World's Healthiest Foods more often, click on the Recipe Assistant, select any of these foods on the healthy foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing the food chosen will appear immediately below.

Reference:Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria C, Vupputuri S, Myers L, Whelton PK. Dietary intake of folate and risk of stroke in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Stroke 2002 May;33(5):1183-9; discussion 1183-9.