Love Your Heart with a Healthy Diet
Even if you already eat lots of fruits and vegetables and avoid trans fats, you might still be able to improve your diet
By now we all know that some foods are good for our hearts and some are not. But what is the real impact of a diet that incorporates all of the heart-healthy eating habits? A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people with overall healthy eating habits were much less likely to die from heart disease or any other reason during almost two decades of follow-up.
Measuring healthy eating habits
The study included 7,319 adults from 39 to 63 years old who answered food and health questionnaires and had periodic medical exams over a span of 18 years. Using a dietary assessment tool called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), each participant was given a score based on nine characteristics of a healthy diet:
The AHEI was developed as an alternative to tools that measure how closely people adhere to a Mediterranean style diet, and is believed to better reflect the healthy eating habits of Americans and the English.
A better diet prolongs life
This study found the following:
Of all the healthy dietary habits, moderate alcohol consumption was the most strongly associated with lower risks of both cardiovascular and all-cause deaths. Commenting on their findings, the study's authors noted that the relationships between AHEI scores and cardiovascular deaths and deaths from all causes had more to do with moderate alcohol intake and high nut and soy consumption than the other eating habits that were part of the index. Their findings especially highlight the important role of nuts and soy foods in a healthy diet.
How to make a good diet better
Fruits, vegetables, and trans fats did not seem to contribute to mortality risk in this study, but many prior studies confirm that they play important roles in cardiovascular and general health. The study's authors noted that fruit and vegetable intakes were high and trans fat intake was very low in general among the people in the study, limiting their ability to compare the protective effects of these basic healthy eating habits with poor eating habits.
So, what is the take home message from this study? Even if you already eat lots of fruits and vegetables and avoid trans fats, you might still be able to improve your diet:
(Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:247-53)
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.