A reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) can be associated with healthy eating patterns, according to new research by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Published in the online journal JAMA Internal Medicine, the study focuses on specific diet patterns and how they can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The findings of the study support the data set by the Dietary Guideline for Americans. This encourages people to focus on healthy eating patterns rather than individual ingredients and nutrients, which can better account for cultural and personal food traditions and preferences.
“Although each healthy eating pattern represents a different combination of dietary constituents, our study indicates that greater adherence to any of the four healthy eating patterns we looked at is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and the health benefits persist across racial and ethnic groups,” said Zhilei Shan, first author on the paper and a research associate in the Department of Nutrition.
This study is only one of a few that has examined how adhering to recommended healthy eating patterns can influence the long-term risk of CVD. Researchers focused on dietary scores for four healthy diets including Healthy Eating Index, Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score, Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index, and Alternate Healthy Eating Index. Despite different methods, each of these diets emphasizes a higher intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts. They also included lower intakes of red, processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Data was assessed from 74,930 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, 90,864 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II, and 43,339 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Participants in each study were questioned every two to four years about their dietary habits. This included how often, on average, they consumed a standard portion size of various foods.
Healthy Eating Patterns
After adjusting for numerous factors, including age, BMI, and smoking status, the analysis found that greater adherence to any of the healthy eating patterns was consistently associated with a lower risk of CVD. For participants who adhered most to healthy eating patterns, they showed a 14% to 21% lower risk of CVD when compared with those who consumed an unhealthy diet.
“These data provide further evidence to support current dietary guidelines that following healthy eating patterns confers long-term health benefits on cardiovascular disease prevention,” said corresponding author Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair of the Department of Nutrition. “There is no one-size-fits-all diet that is best for everyone. One can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy eating patterns according to individuals’ health needs, food preferences, and cultural traditions.”
Following a healthy diet has been shown through many studies to reduce the risk of heart disease and other health conditions. With some simple lifestyle changes, eating healthy can help to reduce the risk of illness and disease, and also reduce symptoms of chronic illness.