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Originally published April 19 2009

Western Diet Responsible for One-Third of Heart Attacks

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) One-third of heart attacks worldwide may be attributable to diets high in fat, salt, eggs and meat, according to a groundbreaking new study published in the journal Circulation.

"Thirty percent of the risk of heart disease in a population could be related to poor diet," lead author Romania Iqbal said.

In the INTERHEART study, researchers from Canada's McMaster University compared diet and heart attack risk among 16,000 people in 52 countries -- 5,561 people who had survived a heart attack, and 10,646 who had no history of heart disease.

Using responses to a detailed dietary questionnaire, researchers assigned each participant a dietary risk score based on their consumption of 19 foods including eggs, grains, fish, red or white meat, dairy, raw fruits and vegetables, and fried and salty foods. The researchers then sorted respondents into three general dietary categories: "Western," "prudent" and "Oriental [sic]".

A Western dietary pattern was high in fried foods, eggs, meat and salt. The prudent pattern was high in fruits and vegetables, while the "Oriental" pattern was high in tofu and sauces such as soy sauce.

The researchers then compared the heart attack risk of people who fell into each dietary category with those who did not, adjusting for other cardiovascular risk factors such as age, body mass index, exercise, geographical location, sex and smoking status.

People who ate lots of foods in the Western category had a 35 percent higher heart attack risk than those who ate less meat, eggs, and fried and salty foods. Conversely, those with a prudent diet had a 30 percent lower heart attack risk than those who ate fewer fruits and vegetables.

"What we found was that the prudent diet, which is very simple -- lots of fruits and vegetables, less fried food and red meat -- was protective," senior author Salim Yusuf said. "It was protective in every part of the world, in men and women, old and young -- everybody. And the degree of protection was quite substantial."

There was no significant difference in heart attack risk between those who ate foods characteristic of the "Oriental" diet and those who did not.

The researchers noted that the study's design was unique in zeroing in on the cardiovascular effects of specific foods, and in examining the "Oriental" eating pattern, as well as the more well-studied Western and prudent patterns.

Significantly, the study showed that the issue is not necessarily the specific dishes that are more traditionally eaten by Western cultures -- such as meat and potatoes -- but rather the presence of meat, eggs, fat and salt in the diet as a whole. Thus, replacing traditional Western foods with fatty foods from other parts of the world will have little health benefit.

"Most people in North America would think of French fries, pizza and potato chips as the big offenders here," researcher Sonia Anand said "That's true, but we also include into that things like samosas and pakoras and fried won ton so that this message applies generally to people from India, people from China -- that deep frying is not good for you."

"This study shows that it doesn't matter whether you live in Bolton or Bombay, or whether you like to eat British, African Caribbean or Asian foods," agreed Ellen Mason of the British Heart Foundation. "The vital thing is to reduce your intake of salty, fried, fatty food to a minimum but increase the amount of fruit and vegetables you eat."

The researchers speculated that the "Oriental" diet had no effect because it contains both heart-positive and heart-negative foods -- such as salty sauces.

"Chinese people tend to have lower rates of heart disease, but it's because they don't have a Western diet," Yusuf said. "Their diet is avoiding the bad things in the Western diet, but it could be even better if they increased the amounts of fruits and vegetables they consumed."

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