The researchers examined a study of more than 80,000 nurses, and found that healthy fats from foods such as avocados, nuts, seafood and liquid vegetable oils can help women reduce their heart disease by as much as a third.
Women also benefit from increasing their consumption of less-processed carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and whole-grain bread and cereal products, the study found.
The researchers' findings, published in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that replacing processed carbohydrates -- such as white bread, bagels, candy, cookies and cake -- and animal fats with healthy plant-based oils "can help reduce the risk of heart disease," according to Tufts University professor Alice H. Lichtenstein.
However, the scientists note that their research was not intended to help women lose weight. Though reducing carbohydrate intake was once a popular weight-loss method, the researchers say their findings advocate a more moderate approach to carb intake than the Atkins diet.
"We didn't really design the study to look at weight loss," said lead researcher Frank Hu, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
According to Lichtenstein, "there's no magic formula for weight loss," and dieters must still focus on reducing their total calorie intake -- as well as increasing exercise levels -- to successfully lose weight.
Hu and his colleagues found that participants in the study who reported eating a moderately reduced carbohydrate diet, such as that suggested for heart benefits, experienced "no significant long-term effect on body weight."