Healthy foods, not diet type, may be key to cutting heart disease risk

Focusing on healthy foods, not particular types of diets, may be key to cutting heart disease risk, according to a new study out of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The researchers studied the effects of three different diets, each with different macronutrient requirements, and found that all three offered heart health benefits. At the core of each diet was an emphasis on healthy foods.

The study analyzed blood samples taken from participants who were fed one of three different diets: one rich in carbohydrates, one that emphasized proteins over carbohydrates, and one that was rich in unsaturated fat from foods like nuts and avocados. All three diets had certain things in common, however, including low levels of salt, cholesterol, and saturated fat.

The 150 participants included in this study had been diagnosed with elevated blood pressure but weren't taking any medication related to hypertension or cholesterol. The participants were fed these diets for six weeks with breaks in between; blood samples from both feeding periods were taken.

Scientists looked at biomarkers related to heart health in blood samples taken from participants before, during, and between the six-week dieting periods. The study found that individuals eating all three healthy diets regardless of their macronutrients profiles experienced improvements in biomarkers related to inflammation and heart health.

The results indicate that it's not the type of diet — low-carb versus high-carb, for example — but rather the presence of healthy foods that offer heart health benefits. The study's corresponding author Stephen Juraschek, M.D., Ph.D, said:

There are multiple debates about dietary carbs and fat, but the message from our data is clear: eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and high in fiber that is restricted in red meats, sugary beverages, and sweets, will not only improve cardiovascular risk factors, but also reduce direct injury to the heart. Hopefully, these findings will resonate with adults as they shop in grocery stores and with health practitioners providing counsel in clinics throughout the country.