Starchy snacks may increase the risk of heart disease, study finds

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Eating different types of food at different times of the day leads to better heart health outcomes

Several studies have analyzed the ways that diet can impact consumers’ risk of heart disease. Researchers previously found that eating refined grains and fried foods can be detrimental to heart health. Now, experts from the American Heart Association say eating a lot of starchy snacks may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Instead, they recommend opting for fresher foods throughout the day. 

“People are increasingly concerned about what they eat as well as when they eat,” said researcher Ying Li, Ph.D. “Our team sought to better understand the effects different foods have when consumed at different meals.” 

Timing of fruits and vegetables is key for heart health

For the study, the researchers analyzed over a decade’s worth of data from more than 21,000 participants enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Over the course of the study, the participants reported exactly what they were eating for specific meals and snacks, and the researchers monitored their health outcomes. 

The study showed that eating starchy snacks — which includes foods like pretzels, crackers, or cereals — was linked with the poorest health and mortality outcomes. These snacks led to a 60% higher chance of heart disease-related death, regardless of when they were eaten. 

Conversely, eating vegetable-based meals at dinnertime was associated with the best health outcomes. This led to a 23% lower chance of heart disease-related death. 

The researchers explained that eating certain foods can have a significant impact on consumers’ heart health. For example, having more fruit around lunchtime was associated with a lower risk of heart disease-related death. However, having refined grains or cured meats around that time was linked with poorer heart health outcomes. The study also found that having a fruit-based snack after breakfast or a dairy-based snack after dinner were both positive influences on heart health. 

While diet remains an important component in consumers’ heart health, these findings highlight that the timing of dietary patterns is also a key piece of the puzzle. Moving forward, the researchers recommend that guidelines for healthy diets consider implementing this factor. 

“Our results revealed that the amount and the intake time of various types of foods are equally critical for maintaining optimal health,” said Dr. Li. “Future nutrition guidelines and interventional strategies could integrate optimal consumption times for foods across the day.” 

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