Shelves full of candy hearts and Valentine’s day are not the only reasons February is associated with matters of the heart. The American Heart Association also dubbed February as Heart Health Month! Do you know what foods help maintain a healthy heart? Maybe you remember something about how eggs are bad? Or that eggs are “in” again? Hmm… If you find nutrition research confusing – you’re not the only one! There has been a lot of conflicting research/information circulated over the years about what foods or diets are best to keep your “ticker” healthy. Here are some of the diet guidelines:
- A vegetarian diet: Studies in the past have compared heart disease rates in Seventh Day Adventists (who are vegetarians) and a sample of non-vegetarians. In most cases, the Adventists had lower rates of cardiovascular disease. In a new study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers used data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford Study (44,561 subjects), to determine that vegetarians had a 32% lower risk of ischemic heart disease than non-vegetarians (source).
- A Mediterranean diet: Numerous studies have toted that benefits of the Mediterranean diet pattern which is high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, whole grains, and lean meat. In a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies of those who are adherent to the Mediterranean diet pattern, a 9% decrease in death from cardiovascular disease was observed (source). However, in other studies, Mediterranean diet followers could have as much as a 27% decreased risk of adverse events if already diagnosed with heart disease (source).
- High intake of fruits and vegetables: Your mom was right when she told you to eat your vegetables because “they are good for you”! For example, prospective data from the Women’s Health Study, indicated that women who ate as few as 4 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a 25% decreased risk of heart disease. Those with the highest intake, about 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, had an overall 38% reduced risk of heart disease compared to those who ate source). Another study using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data showed that those who consumed >3 servings of fruits and vegetables had a 27% lower risk of stroke and 24% lower risk of death from heart disease compared to participants who ate less than 1 serving of fruits and vegetables a day (source).
- Maybe saturated fat isn’t all that bad: We’ve all heard for years that the saturated fat found in whole milk, butter, and meat has been the cause of heart disease. However, in more recent years, this belief has been found to be rather unfounded. In a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found no significant difference in risk for death from heart disease when comparing those with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat (source). This was no small study either, data from 347,747 subjects was included in the analysis!
- Make all or at least half of your grains whole: In a meta analysis of 10 prospective trials, a total 27% decreased risk of death from heart disease for each additional 10 grams of fiber per day from cereal grains, fruits, and vegetables (source). Another study using NHANES data showed that those who consumed at least 20 grams of fiber had a 12% lower risk of heart disease verses those who ate 6 grams of fiber per day (source).