Eating a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables, lean meats and fibre reduces heart disease risk, new research finds.
Whether that diet is rich in unsaturated fats, protein-rich or carb-rich matters less for cardiovascular health, as long as it contains a healthy balance.
The quality of foods matters more than focusing on any specific macronutrients.
The study examined the cardiovascular health impacts of the three main components of our diets– fat, carbohydrates, and protein — called macronutrients.
The results of this research show that all three diets– unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, and protein– were similarly effective in decreasing inflammation and injury to the heart muscle and in improving the heart health.
Changing the macronutrients of the diet did not offer any other advantages.
One possible explanation is that the impact of diet on cardiac injury is fast and so the injury decreases rapidly after introducing a healthy diet.
Dr Stephen Juraschek, study co-author, said:
“Our findings support flexibility in food selection for people attempting to eat a healthier diet and should make it easier.
With the average American eating fewer than two servings of fruit and vegetables a day, the typical American diet is quite different from any of these diets, which all included at least four to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day.”
The study used highly specific tests on participants and analysed their blood samples.
These subjects had high blood pressure but were not on any drugs to reduce their cholesterol or blood pressure.
They were fed a diet rich in either unsaturated fat or carbohydrates, or protein for a period of six weeks and there was a washout period from each diet.
The diets were:
- Carbohydrate-rich diet: similar to the DASH diet with grains, starches and sugars making up nearly 60 percent of its calories.
- Fat-rich: 10 percent of calories from carbs replaced by unsaturated fats found in fish, nuts, and avocados.
- Protein-rich: 10 percent of calories from carbs replaced by protein.
Dr Juraschek 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.”
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was published in the International Journal of Cardiology (Kovell et al., 2019).