When you begin a weight loss journey, one of the most crucial factors to address is your diet. Not which fad diet you might follow, but rather following the structure of a well-rounded, nutritious, whole-foods diet. This includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, nuts, and dairy. A new study, published in the European Heart Journal shares that diets that include such foods can also decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. The decrease in risk compounds on the health benefits associated with losing and maintaining a healthy weight- making the point that what you eat makes as much of a difference to your wellness as losing the pounds themselves.
Andrew Mente, MSc, PhD, associate professor and principal investigator for the epidemiology program at the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada and colleagues developed a healthy diet score for 147,642 people with complete diet information from 21 countries across five continents who participated in the PURE study, an ongoing, large-scale epidemiological cohort. Researchers examined the consistency of the associations of the score with events in five large independent studies from 70 countries. The healthy diet score was developed based on six foods, each of which has been associated with a significantly lower risk for mortality:
- dairy (mainly whole-fat).
Researchers reported that a diet comprised of higher amounts of these foods were associated with lower CVD and mortality in all world regions, especially in countries with lower income.
“Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and moderate amounts of fish and whole-fat dairy to lower risk of CVD and mortality, in all world regions,” Mente said. “In poorer world regions where intake of these natural foods is lowest, improving intake in even three or four of these foods would produce a marked protection. On this basis, current advice to restrict dairy — especially whole fat dairy — to very low amounts in populations globally is not necessary or appropriate. Bottom line: Our findings indicate that the risks of deaths and vascular events in adults globally is higher with inadequate intake of protective foods.”
While not shocking- most dietary guidelines around the world suggest exactly these foods as they support the body in variety of ways, Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, Jean Mayor Professor of Nutrition and a professor of medicine at Tufts School of Medicine and in the division of cardiology at Tufts Medical Center, wrote that the data are important as there is a “devastating rise” in diet-related chronic diseases globally, noting that the “power of protective foods” can help address these burdens.
“This new report from the PURE study provides valuable confirmatory evidence from diverse nations on the importance of health-protecting foods such as fruits, whole grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts/seeds and dairy,” Mozaffarian wrote.
Benefits of protective foods
- The recommended daily amount of fruits for adults is 1.5-2 cups. According to the CDC, only 1/10 Americans consume enough fruits and vegetables daily. Participants in the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, who had the highest intake of fruit and vegetables- more than five servings per day, had a 30% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who only ate one and a half servings (or less), per day, which supports the findings of the latest study that highlights the importance of protective foods. Start today- try these ways to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat 2-3 cups of vegetables daily, per recommendations. 9/10 Americans don’t consume enough vegetables each day, according to the CDC. Similar to fruits, vegetables provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and have anti-inflammatory properties, Read this post on 10 foods that can help weight loss (and provide a variety of other benefits too!).
- Research suggests that eating nuts may lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which play a major role in the buildup of deposits called plaques in your arteries. Regularly consuming nuts may improve the health of the lining of your arteries as well as lower levels of inflammation linked to heart disease. Studies have also shown that nuts can reduce the risk of developing blood clots, which can lead to heart attack and death. The great news is that studies also support consuming nuts (specifically almonds) as they do not contribute to weight gain, despite their caloric density (the key is to watch the portion).
- Eating beans as part of a heart healthy diet and lifestyle may help improve your blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease. Adding beans to your diet may help keep you feeling full longer. Beans are packed with heart-healthy nutrients. Folate, antioxidants, and magnesium can help lower blood pressure. Their fiber helps control both cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Drain canned beans in a colander and rinse with water to remove some of the excess salt.
- Fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. Fish is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fish (particularly fatty fish) per week. A serving is 3.5 ounce cooked, or about ¾ cup of flaked fish.
- One study found that people who ate more yogurt, ate less processed meat and refined grains. Yogurt eaters ate more fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains and other healthy foods, and therefore had higher levels of potassium, vitamins B2 and B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc and other micronutrients, all which benefit your heart health. Choose wisely to reap the benefits- check labels to select yogurts with little or no added sugar (like plain Greek yogurt). Select yogurt that contains live cultures, which benefit your gut health (read more about how probiotic rich foods benefit your overall health, here).
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight provides a host of benefits, from boosting your self image, decreasing the risk of a variety of health issues, less pain, and better sleep. This latest study underscores the importance of incorporating nutritious foods into your diet. What is your biggest hurdle in making the shift to a healthier diet? Leave a comment and we’ll share ideas in a future post on how to overcome the obstacles.