(HealthNewsDigest.com) – A review by the American College of Cardiology nutrition committee examined the connection between the risk for heart disease and common diet recommendations. They did this by applying an evidence-based approach to effectiveness. This simply means they looked at all the research published on the subject and then used their expert consensus to rate the usefulness of the diet approach to heart disease prevention. Their findings were both mixed and interesting.
As could be expected, eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, with nuts in moderate amount, protects us against many chronic diseases as well as heart disease. With other foods the evidence wasn’t always that clear.
Dr. Andrew Freeman, from the Division of Cardiology at the National Jewish Health in Denver, and his colleagues subdivided food claims into three categories: evidence of harm, lacking in evidence for harm or benefit; and evidence of benefit, the foods that are recommended.
High intakes of red meat, added sugars and energy drinks were foods recommended to limit or avoid to prevent heart disease. Energy drinks which usually contain vitamins and caffeine compounds increase the risk for heart disease by elevating blood pressure and by causing increased heart rates, seizures, and heart spasms.
Almost 75% of the packaged foods in the US contains added sugar with sugar-sweetened drinks contributing half the sugar eaten. Numerous large studies have connected drinking 1 or more sugary drinks a day with a higher risk for heart disease. Experts agree that reducing added sugars is important and this will be easier to accomplish in the future as the nutrition label on foods begins to provide a value for added sugar.
Dairy foods, fermented foods, and seaweed can be part of a healthy diet, but there is little or no evidence to prove any can lower the risk for heart disease. Though diary foods are a valuable source of vitamins and minerals, full fat dairy foods such as whole milk and cheese, are also a major source of saturated fat and sodium.
For fermented foods – kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, kombucha – there is currently not enough evidence to recommend them for heart disease prevention but there is also no evidence of harm from eating them. They contain probiotics and may have the potential to reduce inflammation and cholesterol. Seaweed, too, is rich in antioxidants and fiber which may help lower blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol but we need more evidence of this effectiveness.
So, what foods did the researchers recommend for heart health?
Legumes – beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas and soybeans which are all rich in protein, complex carbs, fiber, polyphenols and cholesterol-lowering compounds.
Coffee, both decaf and regular, in moderate amounts reduces the risk for stroke, diabetes, digestive diseases and premature death. It is one of the most widely drunk beverages in the world and contrary to many misconceptions, coffee does not cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol or irregular heart rhythms. The downside of coffee drinking is that many choices are high in added sugar and fats which will reduce the health benefits.
Mushrooms protect the heart by reducing the incidence of other health problems – prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and obesity – that increase the risk for heart disease. Mushrooms have anti-inflammatory properties and produce vitamin D through exposure to ultraviolet light, a nutrient in short supply in the diets of many Americans.
Plant and fish sources of omega-3 fats lower the risk for heart disease and improve levels of fat in the blood. Fatty fish are the best known source of omega-3 fats but green leafy vegetables, walnuts, canola, soybean and flaxseed oils are excellent plant sources. Supplements of omega-3 fats may not be as effective as food sources in reducing risk. For every 0.7 ounce of fish eaten daily there is a 7% reduced risk of death from heart disease.
Light to moderate consumption of alcoholic drinks can reduce the risk for premature death and heart disease but this recommendation comes with a caution. Excessive drinking can result in poor health, falls, certain cancers and liver disease. For women there is some limited evidence that even modest alcohol use is associated with a higher risk for breast cancer. The researcher did not recommend drinking to prevent heart disease, but modest amounts, preferably consumed with meals and without added creams and presweetened drinks, can be beneficial.
Bottom line: Dr. Freeman, the lead researcher cautioned that studies only examine individual foods or food groups. In everyday life it is the overall diet that matters. It’s simple – eat well, be well.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Diabetes Counter – the most up-to-date information on managing diabetes
Calorie Counter – a weight loss guide that won’t let you down
Protein Counter – put the latest protein recommendations to work for you
Healthy Wholefoods Counter – planet-friendly eating made easy
Complete Food Counter – food counts and nutrition information at your fingertips
Fat and Cholesterol Counter – newest approach to heart-healthy eating
Available in print from Gallery Books:
Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
Your Complete Food Counter App: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/your-complete-food-counter/id444558777?mt=8
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com.