Study explores popular foods and heart health
The doctors of National Jewish Health are offering advice for choosing a heart-healthy menu for Valentine’s Day, and every day.
“The current nutritional recommendations show a heart-healthy diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts in moderation,” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health. “However, there are many food groups which can result in confusion for patients, including dairy, added sugar, coffee, and alcohol.”
Freeman and a team reviewed current research that suggests there are benefits to coffee, tea, and mushrooms while raising concern about sugar, and dairy.
Dairy: While low-fat dairy can significantly lower blood pressure, several studies have shown a link between dairy intake and increased LDL cholesterol, fractures, and all-cause mortality. There is no clear consensus on dairy intake among experts, but after a review of multiple meta-analyses, researchers determined dairy should be consumed with caution, as it is unclear if there is benefit or harm, and, as it serves as a major source of saturated fat and salt in the U.S., it should be limited if consumed at all.
Sugars: Table sugar and high fructose corn syrup have been linked to increased risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, and worsened atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Researchers strongly recommend individuals eliminate added sugars from their diet as much as possible, including processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, such as regular soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks.
Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, and soybeans have been shown to reduce coronary heart disease and improve blood glucose, LDL-C, systolic blood pressure, and weight.
“Legumes are affordable and a rich source of protein,” Freeman said. “We should be incorporating more beans and bean-dishes like hummus into our diets to promote heart health.”
Coffee: Overall the habitual consumption of coffee is associated with lower risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, and there is no association between coffee and hypertension development.
Tea: Both black and green tea consumption without added sugars, sweeteners, or milk and cream appear to be safe and even associated with improved cardiovascular health and blood lipids.
Alcohol: While the relationship between alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease is complicated, low-to-moderate intake is associated with a reduced risk of total cardiovascular disease. However, due to risks of falls, certain cancers, and liver disease, the researchers don’t recommend individuals consume alcohol for cardiovascular benefit.
“There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all dietary pattern for preventing heart disease,” Freeman said. “But, most of the evidence continues to reinforce that a predominantly plant-based diet lower in fat, added sugars, added salt, processed foods, and with limited, if any, animal products seem to be where the data is pointing us. It is important for clinicians to stay on top of rising food trends and current scientific evidence to provide meaningful and accurate nutritional advice for patients.”