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Eat Smart for a Healthy Heart

Enjoying a diet low in total and trans fat that includes plenty fruits and vegetables may reduce the heart disease risk, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A silent condition

Heart disease affects more women than men, yet women are less likely to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for their condition. Women are also more likely than men to develop heart failure and to die after a heart attack.

As part of the Women’s Health Initiative, this study investigated how women’s diets stacked up when it came to preventing heart disease. Over 93,000 women aged 50 to 79 took part in the study. At the onset, the women gave detailed information about their diets, including how much and what types of fat they ate, amounts of fruits, vegetables, and grains eaten every day, cholesterol intake, nut and soy consumption, ratio of white to red meat, and alcohol and multivitamin use.

Using this information, researchers applied two different scoring methods to assess the women’s diet quality, and incidence of cardiovascular disease—including heart attack, bypass surgery, stroke, and heart failure—was recorded for ten years.

Heart healthy diet pays off

Women who scored highest in terms of diet quality were up to 23% less at risk for any type of cardiovascular disease and 30% less at risk for heart failure than were those with the poorest quality diets. Here’s what decreased cardiovascular disease risk:

  • Lower total and trans fat intake,
  • lower dietary cholesterol intake, higher fruit and vegetable consumption,
  • higher ratio of white to red meat intake,
  • multivitamin use, and
  • alcohol consumption.

Lower cholesterol, and higher fiber and alcohol consumption were associated with a lower risk of heart failure. “These data suggest that diet quality, or nutrient density, as well as dietary total and saturated fat are important risk predictors for heart failure,” said lead study author, Rashad Belin, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Love your heart

Here are some simple steps you can take to help prevent heart disease.

  • Keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range: Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL, and heart healthy HDL (“good”) cholesterol above 50 mg/dL.
  • Watch your blood pressure: Aim for 120/80 or lower.
  • Trim the fat: Extra inches, particularly in the mid-section, increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Quit smoking: To slash your risk of tobacco smoke-related diseases, it’s never too late to kick the habit.

Most of these goals can be reached through a combination of eating a diet low in fat and cholesterol that’s loaded with fruits and veggies, and getting daily exercise. See your doctor to develop a plan that’s right for you and to get the support you need to quit smoking.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 94:49–57)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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