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What is the Best Food for Heart Health?

FOOD is once again under the spotlight as a new meta-analysis has delved into the risks and benefits of several food types and their links with heart health. This work, carried out by researchers at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Nutrition & Lifestyle Workgroup of the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Council, Washington D.C., USA, assessed several existing studies and brought together all of the evidence to draw conclusions on food–heart health relationships.

Currently, it is accepted wisdom that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and moderate amounts of nuts has many benefits for heart health. However, contrasting studies have resulted in confusion surrounding other food types, such as sugar, alcohol, dairy, and coffee. Dr Andrew Freeman, Fellow of the ACC and the Director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness, National Jewish Health, Denver, Colorado, USA, and his team aimed to eliminate this confusion by reviewing the highest-quality research in this area.

Through collating all of the data from each review, the researchers found that low-fat dairy lowers blood pressure but may raise ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, increase the risk of bone fractures, and increase the risk of death from any cause. They also found a definite link between added sugars, such as those found in syrups and table sugar, and an increased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and death as a result of atherosclerosis. In addition, although it was found that a moderate alcohol intake can reduce cardiovascular disease risk, the other risks associated with alcohol intake, such as liver disease and cancer, outweigh these benefits. Coffee consumption was found to have an association with reduced risk of death from any cause, and black and green tea was suggested to aid in maintaining a safe level of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.

As a result, the researchers recommended avoiding dairy products, or consuming them with caution, particularly due to their high saturated fat and salt content. Processed foods with added sugars and sweetened drinks, such as energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks, should also be avoided, as should alcohol. A diet rich in plant-based proteins, such as those from legumes and mushrooms, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, coffee, and black or green tea was concluded to be the best way to improve and maintain heart health.