Healthy foods beat out specific diets in reducing heart disease risk

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Researchers say that individual food choices make the biggest difference

To help reduce the risk of heart disease, many medical professionals suggest that their patients follow particular diets. But a new study conducted by researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggests that this may not be the most effective advice. 

The study revealed that healthy foods in general are consumers’ best bet at eliminating the risk of heart disease, as opposed to following a strict diet plan. 

“It’s possible that macronutrients matter less than simply eating healthy foods,” said Dr. Stephen Juraschek. “Our findings support flexibility in food selection for people attempting to eat a healthier diet and should make it easier. With the average American eating fewer than two servings of fruit and vegetables a day, the typical American diet is quite different from any of these diets, which all included at least four to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day.” 

Making healthy choices

The researchers had participants follow three diets, all of which were designed to help reduce the risk of heart disease, for six weeks. The diets were the same in that they were all low in sodium, unhealthy saturated fat, and cholesterol. However, each diet highlighted different nutrients. One diet was heavy on protein, one highlighted foods rich in unsaturated fats (like avocados and nuts), and the third diet consisted primarily of carbs. 

At the end of each six-week cycle, the researchers analyzed participants’ blood samples to evaluate them against the vitals they recorded at the start of the study to see how the different diets were affecting participants’ likelihood of heart disease. Ultimately, the team discovered that emphasizing specific nutrients in participants’ diets wasn’t as critical in reducing heart disease as much as just making healthier choices. 

Each diet was beneficial to consumers’ heart health, but prioritizing healthy options and incorporating them more regularly into participants’ diets was the more effective choice, highlighting the importance of maintaining a balanced diet for improved overall health. 

“There are multiple debates about dietary carbs and fat, but the message from our data is clear: eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and high in fiber that is restricted in red meats, sugary beverages, and sweets, will not only improve cardiovascular risk factors, but also reduce direct injury to the heart,” said Dr. Juraschek. “Hopefully, these findings will resonate with adults as they shop in grocery stores and with health practitioners providing counsel in clinics throughout the country.”

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