Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States. As numbers continue to rise, it becomes increasingly important that we prioritize our heart health, especially as we get older. Luckily, emerging research shows that our dietary habits can positively (or negatively) influence our heart health. According to a new review of studies, there is a specific way you should structure your diet in order to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Diet and Heart Health
It’s probably not a surprise to you that eating a “healthy” diet is good for your heart, but the new review published in Cardiovascular Research dug a little deeper into how much of each food group we should eat to protect ourselves — and how often.
For their research, a group of scientists from the University of Naples conducted a review of literature on the consumption of different food groups in relation to cardiovascular disease incidence and/or mortality published up to August 2020. They grouped foods based on their origin i.e. animal meats, eggs, fish, dairy, cereals and processed carbohydrates (like bread), legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Unsurprisingly, their meta-analysis indicated that diets with a higher intake of plant-based foods — and limited consumption of refined carbs and starchy foods — are associated with a significantly lower cardiovascular disease and mortality risk when compared with diets consisting of mostly animal foods.
Diving further in, the researchers were able to determine that if we’re trying to avoid a heart condition, we should aim to eat at least two servings per day of whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, and one serving per day of nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil (or other plant-based oils), and yogurt. Just as well, their data supported a diet that consists of four servings per week of fish and legumes. (Wondering what a serving actually looks like? Check out this helpful guide from the American Heart Association.)
On the other hand, the results suggested that there are a few food groups we should aim to limit. Namely, white meat, cheese, eggs, and milk should be consumed no more than three servings per week, while refined carbs (like white bread and pasta), red meat, and butter should be limited to two servings per week. And as for the worst offender of heart health, processed meats like hot dogs, salami, and deli meats should only be eaten on occasion.
These findings support that a mostly plant-based diet, with moderate consumption of animal products, is probably your best bet if you’re eating for a healthy heart. “We need to rediscover culinary traditions such as the Mediterranean diet which has delicious recipes using beans, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables,” said Gabriele Riccardi, MD, one of the authors on the study. If that weren’t enough to convince you, it’s been said that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest eating style for gut and brain health, too.
So if you want to sidestep heart disease, try structuring your eating habits so that you’re consuming more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and cutting back on the meat as much as possible. Doing so could really add healthy years to your life!