THE BLOG
08/16/2013 03:06 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2013

Eat More Fruit -- It's Good for the Economy (And for Your Health, Too)

More than 127,000 people die every year in America from cardiovascular disease that could be prevented, accruing $17 billion in medical spending. Heart disease is a "costly killer," according to the Union of Concerned Scientists UCS), who has calculated "The $11 Trillion Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Lives and Money, and How We Get There," a report published this month.

That $11 trillion opportunity is equal to the present value of lives saved. This arithmetic is based on preventing 127,000 deaths each year due to heart disease, and $17 billion worth of annual medical costs spent on cardiovascular health problems that could be prevented.

If that math doesn't work for you, I'll put it quite plainly: eating just one more portion of fruit or vegetables per day (that's 1/2 cup of either) would add up to $2.7 trillion (with a "t").

The solution to bolstering heart (and overall health) and saving money (medical spending and personal productivity) is in food. We're not talking about genetically engineering anything special or out of the ordinary. We are talking about making healthy food more accessible to everyone.

The UCS asserts that Americans aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables. This may sound simple, but behind the phenomenon is a U.S. food system that's built on subsidies -- tax breaks and financial programs -- that encourage the growth and distribution of less-than-healthful foodstuffs. Reforms such as encouraging farmers to increase their yield of fresh produce; subsidizing loans for market infrastructure of grocery stores, farmers markets and food hubs for distribution; and lowering barriers for people trying to redeem food stamps at local markets would improve people's access to healthy food that lowers the risks of heart disease -- the No. 1 killer of Americans. Women, take note: heart disease kills more of us than all types of cancers combined.

There is a large evidence base that proves expanding fruit and vegetable consumption lowers all kinds of chronic disease, and especially cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), coronary heart disease and stroke. Other lifestyle choices, like smoking, sedentary behavior (a.k.a., the "sitting disease") and the natural aging process also contribute to heart disease. While there's not a whole lot we can do about aging, we can choose to spend our money differently in the grocery store.

So when you're grocery shopping, buy more in the produce section and less in the middle of the store. Spend your hard-won dollars and cents on the foods that make heart-healthy sense: fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (chicken, fish, lean pork and lean beef if you are a "carnivore"), Greek yogurt (which is overtaking dairy case space in many food stores) and foods associated with a Mediterranean diet, including healthy fats, such as olive oil.

In addition to spending more on produce on the outside aisles of the grocery store, and less in the interior, do read labels of cans and packages on items you're shopping for in the middle of the store. Try to avoid corn syrup, unhealthy oils and ingredients your grandmother didn't know or couldn't pronounce (as Michael Pollan professes). Your heart and gut will thank you. And so will your own wallet and the U.S. economy's.

Changing what you eat can often help you avoid prescription drugs for heart disease and diabetes if you stick to your behavior change, the Mayo Clinic and other experts have shown.

In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, JustStand.org also encourages us to avoid the "sitting disease," that inertia that keeps us on our bums and not moving around. That's easy to do and it costs no money -- but doing so could certainly help you save money and life-years, too.

For more by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.