Researchers analyzed nutrition studies in a new review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which intends to cut through the confusion about the best dietary patterns to reduce cardiovascular disease, our greatest killer. The review concludes that current evidence strongly supports eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts in moderation. Although more controversial, some heart–healthy diets may also include very limited quantities of lean meat, fish, low–fat and nonfat dairy products, and liquid vegetable oils.
The review examined several of these dietary patterns as well as “hypes and controversies” surrounding nutrition to provide the population with information about dietary habits.
Their advice: “There is a growing consensus that a predominantly plant–based diet that emphasizes green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit is where the best improvements are seen in heart health.”
Other nutrition topics covered in the review include:
- Eggs and cholesterol. Although a government report issued in 2015 dropped specific recommendations about upper limits for cholesterol consumption, the review concludes, “it remains prudent to significantly limit intake of dietary cholesterol in the form of eggs or any high cholesterol foods.”
- Vegetable oils. Coconut oil and palm oil should be discouraged due to limited data supporting routine use. The most heart–healthy oil is olive oil, though perhaps in moderation as it is still higher calorie, research suggests.
- Berries and antioxidant supplementation. Fruits and vegetables are the healthiest and most beneficial source of antioxidants to reduce heart disease risk. There is no evidence to support adding high–dose antioxidant dietary supplements benefits cardiovascular health.
- Nuts. Nuts can be part of a heart–healthy diet. But beware of consuming too many, because nuts are high in calories.
- Juicing. While the fruits and vegetables contained in juices are heart–healthy, the process of juicing concentrates calories, which makes it is much easier to ingest too many. Eating whole fruits and vegetables is preferred, with juicing primarily reserved for situations when daily intake of vegetables and fruits is inadequate. If you do juice, minimize calories by avoiding adding extra sugar or honey.
- Gluten. People who have celiac disease or other gluten sensitivity (about 1% of the population) must avoid gluten—wheat, barley and rye. For patients who don’t have any gluten sensitivities, many of the claims for health benefits of a gluten–free diet are unsubstantiated and are best ignored .
- The authors also addressed why there can be confusion surrounding nutrition studies. Unfortunately, many of these studies are funded and/or influenced by the food industry and likely have some bias, or are totally inaccurate.
Confounding the issue further, it’s very hard to separate the effects of specific nutrients in a food. For example, an apple contains many components including proteins, vitamins and fiber..
Many people who eat a healthy diet also have other healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, and not smoking, and it can be hard to pinpoint the diet’s effect separate from these other behaviors. Moreover, some nutrition studies tend to be based on surveys that rely on people’s memories of what they ate, which isn’t always reliable.
The founder of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said, “Let food be thy medicine.” If we can get the population to understand the value of nutrition, they could enjoy a greater reduction of cardiovascular and other diseases, and that is certainly more cost–effective than treating diseases before they are causing symptoms or signs.