If you think you know everything there is to know about a diet that is healthy for your heart, think again. According to results from the observational Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study published in the Lancet, the foods that make up a heart-healthy diet for people worldwide may be different from what was previously believed. Where before, dairy products, healthy fat, and meat were highly recommended to be avoided, they are now considered beneficial to heart health.
“Thinking on what constitutes a high-quality diet for a global population needs to be reconsidered,” says Salim Yusuf, senior author and director of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.
“For example, our results show that dairy products are beneficial for heart health and longevity. This differs from current dietary advice,” he explains.
Editor's note: Artificially altered dairy products such as homogenized, pasteurized cow's milk, should always be avoided and present a different risk to human health. Unprocessed milk -- raw milk -- is more compatible with human digestion and physiology, since its molecules and digestive enzymes remain intact.
The recommendations and guidelines currently being followed and upheld for a high-quality diet that helps lower the risk of cardiovascular disease are based on studies conducted decades ago, often in high-income countries. Data on what constitutes the rest of the world's diet is rather limited.
The research was conducted in order to clarify what truly constitutes a heart-healthy diet. For the study, the researchers developed a dietary quality score based on foods that previous studies have associated with a lower risk of death. These include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, dairy products, and meat.
The study required the involvement of 218,000 people from over 50 countries. These participants were divided into five groups according to the quality of their diet. Those who consumed plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, meat, and dairy products have the lowest risk of developing cardiovascular disease and suffering from premature death, according to the study's findings.
Eat more vegetables and fruits – These foods are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your heart needs for optimal function. Of particular note is dietary fiber, particularly, the soluble kind, which helps inhibit the absorption of cholesterol, ensuring that the levels of “bad” fats in your system are low. These foods also contain antioxidants that protect your body from oxidative stress. Antioxidants lower the risk of atherosclerosis, the leading cause of coronary heart disease.
Choose whole grains – Cereals, particularly whole grains, are good for your heart. They are rich in both insoluble and soluble dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber helps improve digestion and acts as food for the friendly bacteria in your gut. It also keeps you full, which is great for when you need to limit your food intake and curb unhealthy cravings.
Consume lean meats – Protein from meat products are an essential part of a healthy diet as your body easily uses them. However, a lot of meat products come with a lot of bad fats. Instead of making pork and beef your primary sources of protein, go for leaner sources like chicken and eggs. You may also opt for fish, which contains high levels of protein but are low in fat. If you do not or cannot eat meat, you may get your protein from legumes, such as soy and beans, and nuts, such as walnuts.
Love healthy fats – Not all fats are bad for you. Some are needed to protect your heart. For instance, omega-3 fatty acids are known to prevent inflammation that causes heart disease, as well as lower bad cholesterol levels. They also help maintain healthy heart rhythm. Omega-3s are found aplenty in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as in certain fruits, nuts, and seeds. The fats in olive oil are also known to be good for the heart.
Control your portions – As the popular adage goes, too much of something is bad for you. Even healthy food can be bad for your heart when consumed in large quantities. Portion control remains one of the primary rules in any diet, especially one meant for your heart's health.