The key finding: People who reported eating more than five daily servings of fruits and vegetables had the lowest stroke risk. They were 26% less likely to have a stroke over 13 years than those who ate fruits and vegetables fewer than three times daily.
"Our results provide strong support for the recommendations to consume more than five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, which is likely to cause a major reduction in strokes," write the researchers.
They included Feng He, PhD, of St. George's University in London.
Slashing Stroke Risk
The researchers pooled data from all eight studies, which totaled more than quarter of a million adults who were followed for 13 years, on average.
The studies had a combined total of 4,917 strokes. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables was linked to lower stroke risk.
That finding comes from participants' reports of their own eating habits. Such reports aren't always perfect, and people who favor fruits and vegetables may have had other healthy habits - such as exercising, eating a low-fat diet, and not smoking -- which lowered stroke risk, write He and colleagues.
Still, the researchers cite a "strong biological basis" for the theory that fruits and vegetables cut stroke risk. Produce contains nutrients including potassium, folate, fiber, and antioxidants, which may lower stroke risk, the researchers write.
How Do You Measure Up?
If you're like most people in developed countries, you eat about three servings of fruits and vegetables per day, write the researchers.
That's more than halfway to the goal of more than five daily servings. A couple of carrot sticks, an apple, and a side salad could push you through the finish line.
"Eat your fruits and vegetables; they are good for your health," writes editorialist Lyn Steffen, PhD, MPH, RD, in The Lancet.
Ideally, fruits and vegetables would be dietary staples starting in childhood, when lifelong food habits often start, writes Steffen, who works at the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health.
"Your parents were smart when they told you to eat all your vegetables and encouraged you to eat your fruit," Steffen writes, "but they probably did not know that eating more fruit and vegetables would lower the risk of stroke."
Ready to put more produce on your plate? Go for variety, He's team suggests.
Their report doesn't list specific fruits and vegetables that were particularly helpful in cutting stroke risk. "We cannot say whether some types of fruits and vegetables are better than others," the researchers write.
"We believe that an overall increase in the consumption of fruit and vegetables will be beneficial in reducing the risk of stroke, and could also reduce other cardiovascular disease and some cancers," they write.