Heart disease risk is lowered with unsaturated fats and high-quality carbohydrates. The study found that replacing saturated fats with high-quality carbs had the biggest impact on reducing heart disease risk. No benefit was observed when the researchers replaced saturated fats with highly processed food.
Study author and professor of nutrition Frank B. Hu explained, “Many physicians could benefit from more in-depth nutritional knowledge to help them counsel their patients on changing their dietary practices in a way that will impact their health. In particular, we found that when study participants consumed less saturated fats, they were replacing them with low-quality carbohydrates such as refined grains that are not beneficial to preventing heart disease. Our findings suggest that when patients are making lifestyle changes to their diets, cardiologists should encourage the consumption of unsaturated fats like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, as well as healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains.”
The researchers analyzed data from 121,701 female nurses enrolled in a long-term study, along with 51,529 men. They also followed 82,628 women and 42,908 men who were free from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The researchers documented 7,667 cases of coronary heart disease.
Participants provided information about their diet, lifestyle, and medical history.
The researchers observed that participants swapped their saturated fat intake with low-quality carbohydrates, including white bread and potatoes, instead of replacing it with high-quality carbohydrates or unsaturated fat. Replacing five percent of saturated fat with an equivalent of polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, or high-quality carbohydrate was associated with a 25 percent, 15 percent, and nine percent reduction in heart disease, respectively.
The researchers recommend cooking with olive oil, canola oil, or other vegetable oils rather than butter, lard, or margarine, swapping unhealthy snacks like chips with nuts, and making sandwiches with whole grain breads, avocados, and chicken breast rather than cheese and deli meats.
How to prevent heart disease naturally
Heart disease is not an inevitable part of aging, and steps can be taken in order to better protect your heart and prevent heart disease. For starters, it’s imperative that you get moving. Numerous studies have pointed to the fact that exercise is a great way to prevent heart disease.
One study in particular reviewed four exercise and 12 drug meta-analyses that included 305 clinical trials and a total of 339,274 participants.
The results of the current analysis showed that there was no statistical difference between the benefits of exercise, compared to drug therapy, for patients with heart disease or prediabetes. For those individuals recovering from stroke, exercise was a more effective therapy, compared to drugs. However, drug therapy, in the form of diuretics, was more effective than exercise for heart failure patients.
Medical professionals and patients may undervalue the impact of exercise on heart disease and diabetes simply because the supporting research is limited. Don’t let that stop you from becoming more active.
For physicians to prescribe exercise to heart disease and prediabetes patients, additional research needs to be done, and the results made available to all medical professionals.
Another tip for heart disease prevention is following a heart disease prevention diet, and the Mediterranean diet seems to be the best option so far. In the review, published in The American Journal of Medicine, the researchers analyzed studies dating as far back as 1957 that included links between food and heart disease.
The review revealed that high cholesterol levels are associated with a high intake of saturated fat, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.
By now we know the importance of keeping our cholesterol down, and the American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 30 percent of daily calories from fat and less than 10 percent from saturated fat – commonly found in red meat and dairy.
Although the researchers, too, knew that a low-fat diet was optimal for heart health, they also believed a whole approach, as seen in the Mediterranean diet, may be successful for reducing heart attack risk as well.
Researcher Dr. James E. Dalen said, “Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats. These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However, they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths.”
“Nutritional interventions have proven that a ‘whole diet’ approach with equal attention to what is consumed as well as what is excluded is more effective in preventing cardiovascular disease than low-fat, low-cholesterol diets,” concluded Dr. Dalen.
Other prevention tips include maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, reducing stress, watching you alcohol intake, and not smoking.