Millions of deaths from heart disease and stroke – the No. 1 causes of death worldwide – are linked to inadequate fruit and vegetable intake, according to preliminary findings in a new study to be presented at the American Society of Nutrition’s annual meeting in late June.

The study tracked cardiovascular deaths worldwide for 2010, estimating that roughly one in seven could be attributed to not eating enough fruit and one in 12 could be attributed to not eating enough vegetables. In the United States, low vegetable intake may account for 82,000 cardiovascular deaths while suboptimal fruit intake accounted for 57,000 deaths, the researchers reported.

Fruits and vegetables are a good source of fiber, minerals, vitamins and healthy gut bacteria, and help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, according to the ASN. In addition, people who eat more of these foods are less likely to be obese or overweight, further lowering their risk, it states.

“These findings indicate a need to expand the focus to increasing availability and consumption of protective foods like fruits, vegetables and legumes – a positive message with tremendous potential for improving global health,” said the study’s senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Ph.D., of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

The research is part of the Global Dietary Database project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.