Award Best Scientific Paper of 2015

grant holder
Heidi Lai,
University of Leeds

Heidi Lai,

Heidi Lai, a young researcher at the University of Leeds (UK), received the Alpro Foundation Award for the best scientific paper by a young scientist. She received this Award of 2500€ for her publication ‘Fruit intake and cardiovascular disease mortality in the UK Women’s Cohort Study’ published in The European Journal of Epidemiology. With this award, Alpro Foundation wants to stimulate young researchers to carry out research in the field of plant-based nutrition and its impact on health. Dr Lai studied how diet can influence the total disease burden of the population. Her research further emphasizes the importance of a higher intake of fruit and an active lifestyle for cardiovascular health.

Cardiovascular disease is the single most important cause of death in Europe as a whole and results in over 4 million deaths per year, representing 47% of all deaths. It is obvious that prevention is important. Unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and smoking are the most important behavioral risk factors responsible for about 80% of cardiovascular disease.

UK Women’s cohort study

Dr Lai used the dietary information from the UK Women’s cohort containing data from 30,458 women who were followed for an average of 16.7 years. Lifestyle and food habits of these women were related to the cardiovascular mortality.

Healthy lifestyle

Overall women with an active lifestyle and a more vegetarian lifestyle were less likely to die from heart disease.

Women who died from either stroke or cardiovascular heart diseases had a higher BMI and larger waist circumference. These women also had a lower physical activity, were less likely to be vegetarians compared to the women without a heart condition.

Fruit intake

Dr. Lai further explored whether there was an association between total and specific fruit intake and cardiovascular mortality. Women with the highest total fruit intake (more than 7 portions a day) had a 43% lower risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease compared to women with the lowest fruit intake (less than 2 portions a day). A clear dose-response effect was observed: every additional fruit portion (80 g/d) lowered the risk for a fatal cardiovascular disease with 8%. The women with a higher fruit intake also reported other healthy lifestyle habits such as high vegetable consumption, lower alcohol consumption, lower smoking rates and higher levels of physical activity.

Heidi Lai further sub-categorized fruit intakes according to polyphenol content but no effect of fruit type (fresh, citrus, dried fruit, tropical fruit, …) on cardiovascular health was found.

Dr. Lai concluded that the type of fruit is not important but the total amount of fruit intake; a wide variety of different types of fruit and an overall healthy and active lifestyle is recommended.

About the award

Professor Ian Rowland, Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Alpro Foundation, emphasises the importance of this research: “This study, using data from a large cohort of over 30,000 women, took the novel approach of grouping fruits by their polyphenol profile. Although this approach did not identify specific fruit types with enhanced CVD benefits, the study clearly shows that a healthy lifestyle with a higher fruit intake results in a lower cardiovascular disease burden. With the Alpro Foundation Award we hope to stimulate young researchers to continue with such socially relevant research. We still notice that general knowledge about nutrition and health is often insufficient.”

The Alpro Foundation Award for best scientific paper honors a promising young researcher as the first author of an outstanding paper in the field of plant-based nutrition also elated to the impact of plant-based eating on health or sustainability. The first author must be affiliated to a European University and must be younger than 35 years. The prize is 2500€ for the young scientist.

Reference: Lai H et al, Fruit intake and cardiovascular disease mortality in the UK Women’s Cohort Study. Eur J Epidemiol 2015.