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Legumes Linked with Heart Health

Legumes, the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts, are central to traditional diets around the world. To see how legumes relate to heart health, scientists reviewed 14 studies with 367,000 participants in both Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean populations. They found that a high intake of legumes (roughly less than one serving per day, or three to four servings per week) was associated with a 6% lower risk of any heart disease, and a 10% lower risk of coronary heart disease specifically. However, no association was found between legume consumption and stroke risk.
Journal of Public Health Nutrition. 2017 Feb;20(2):245-254. (Marventano S et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Heart Disease & Death from Heart Disease

Even if you don’t live in the Mediterranean, you can still benefit from a Mediterranean style diet. To see how the Mediterranean diet relates to heart disease in England, European researchers analyzed the eating habits and health outcomes of 23,902 adults (age 40-79) in Eastern England. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to develop heart disease. Based on these data, the researchers estimate that 1-6% of all heart disease cases, and 2-14% of all stroke cases can be prevented by following a Mediterranean diet.
BMC Medicine. 2016 Sep 29;14(1):135. (Tong TY et al.)

More Fish, Less Meat, Moderate Alcohol Intake Linked with Lower Heart Failure Risk

The Mediterranean diet is well known for its role in heart health, so researchers wanted to know if the foundations of a Mediterranean diet specifically reduced the risk of heart failure. German researchers analyzed the diets of 24,008 middle aged European adults, and followed their health outcomes for 8 years. While a strong adherence to a Mediterranean diet was not significantly related to lower heart failure risk after adjusting for other risk factors, many components of the Mediterranean diet were linked with a lower risk of heart failure, including high fish intake, moderate alcohol intake, and low meat intake. The researchers conclude that “Minor dietary changes could be valuable primary prevention measures, particularly the increase of fish consumption while reducing the intake of meat.”
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Sep;70(9):1015-21. (Wirth J et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Death Risk in Those with History of Heart Disease

The Mediterranean diet is well known for its role in heart disease prevention, but new research suggests that it may also be beneficial for people who already have a history of heart disease. In a preliminary study, researchers followed 1197 Italian adults who had a history of heart disease and analyzed their eating patterns and health outcomes. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were 37% less likely to die during the 7-year study period than those not following a Mediterranean diet. In fact, each 2-point increase on the Mediterranean diet score (on a scale of 0-9) was linked with a 21% lower risk of death. This is greater than the risk reduction seen by taking statins (18%), common cholesterol lowering drugs.
Presentation at the European Society of Cardiology. Rome, Italy. August 28, 2016.

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Less Plaque Build Up in Arteries

Atherosclerosis, plaque build up in the arteries, can lead to dangerous blood clots, but diet can play an important role in prevention. Researchers analyzed the eating habits and heart health markers of 4,082 adults in Spain, and identified three distinct eating patterns: the Mediterranean diet, the Western diet, and the “social-business eating pattern,” a dietary pattern with more calories, red meat, pre-made foods, alcohol, sugary drinks, snacks, and lots of eating out. Those eating a Mediterranean diet had significantly less plaque than those eating a Western or social business eating pattern, with a social-business pattern appearing to be even worse than the typical, unhealthy Western diet (characterized by not enough fruits, veggies or whole grains, and too much red meat, desserts, and sugary beverages).
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2016 Aug 23;68(8):805-14. 

Full Fat Mediterranean Diet Linked with Good Health

A healthy diet need not restrict fat or flavor, at least in the case of the delicious and nutritious Mediterranean diet. Researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the U.S. analyzed data from 56 studies (of at least 100 people in each study) to get a big picture view of the Mediterranean diet. The studies were all controlled trials (one of the strongest types of nutrition studies) and were included so long as the participants followed at least 2 of the 7 characteristics of a Mediterranean diet (such as lots of fruits and vegetables, or a preference for olive oil and other unsaturated fats). The scientists found that a Mediterranean diet (with no restriction on fat) may help prevent heart disease, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes, but they did not find a significant reduction in mortality.
Annals of Internal Medicine. 2016 Jul 19. (Bloomfield HE et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Heart Disease

Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 15,000 adults at risk of heart disease from 39 countries to see if their eating habits were more representative of the Mediterranean diet or the Western diet. In those most closely following a Mediterranean diet, each 1 point increase on the Mediterranean Diet Score was linked with a 7% lower risk of a major heart problem (heart attack, stroke, or death) over the 4 year follow up. Similarly, researchers also calculated a simplified Mediterranean Diet Score for the participants (based only on daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, and weekly consumption of fish and alcohol), and found that each 1 point increase in the simplified Mediterranean Diet Score was linked with a 10% lower risk of major heart problems. Fish and tofu/soybeans were the only individual food groups that were significantly associated with a lower risk of heart problems after adjusting for education, health, and lifestyle factors. Consumption of specific foods common to the Western diet was not significantly linked with heart disease risk in this analysis, leading the scientists to conclude that “Greater consumption of healthy foods may be more important for secondary prevention of coronary artery disease than avoidance of less healthy foods.”
European Heart Journal. 2016 April 24. [Epub ahead of print.] (Stewart RAH et al.)

Replace Butter with Fish, Nuts, Seeds, and Lower Risk of Heart Disease by 25%

Harvard researchers followed over 120,000 adults for 24-30 years, tracking their diet and health records. The scientists found that replacing 5% of daily calories from saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, seeds, and safflower oil), monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil and canola oil), or whole grains is linked with a 25%, 15%, and 9% lower risk of heart disease, respectively. Additionally, they found that replacing 5% of daily calories from refined grains and added sugars with whole grains or polyunsaturated fats can also significantly reduce heart disease risk, and that replacing saturated fat with refined grains or added sugars does not lower heart disease risk. The researchers concluded, “Our findings provide epidemiological evidence of the current dietary guidelines, which recommend both “replacing saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids” and “replacing refined grains with whole grains.”” The Mediterranean diet, which spotlights whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, is the perfect eating plan to put these lessons into practice.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2015 Oct;66(14):1538-48. (Li Y et al.)

Lower Birth Defects Linked with Moms Who Eat Healthy Med Diets

Congenital heart defects (heart problems that occur before birth) affect nearly 1% of newborns in America. In a study of over 19,000 American women, researchers compared mothers of babies with congenital heart defects to mothers of babies without this condition. Scientists analyzed the mothers’ diets in the year before pregnancy using both the Mediterranean Diet Score and the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy. Babies whose moms’ diets ranked healthy on both scores were significantly less likely to suffer from certain specific subgroups of congenital heart defects, such as tetralogy of Fallot (a defect in heart structure which causes oxygen poor blood to flow throughout the body), but not all heart defects. The relationship between diet and congenital heart defects was stronger with the Diet Quality Index for Pregnancy than with the Mediterranean Diet.
Archives of Disease in Childhood. Fetal and Neonatal Edition. 2015 August 24. pii: fetalneonatal-2014-308013. [Epub ahead of print.] (Botto LD et al.) 

Peanut and Nut Intake May Lower Death from Heart Disease

Nuts have long been associated with longevity, and new research in diverse populations further supports this relationship. Researchers tracked peanut and nut intake of about 206,000 people in the US (low income blacks and whites) and China for over 5 years. High nut intake was associated with a 21% lower risk of death from all causes among the US participants, and a 17% lower risk in the Chinese participants. High nut and peanut intake was also associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, especially in ischemic heart disease (the type of heart disease caused by narrowed arteries).
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May;175(5):755-66. (Luu HN, et al.)

Doctors May Not Be Equipped for Diet Counseling

One of the great ironies of the healthcare system is that doctors are often untrained in the most basic of wellness practices: nutrition. In a survey of 236 physicians at a large US medical center (including cardiologists and internal medicine doctors and trainees), fewer than 14% felt adequately trained to discuss nutrition with their patients. Nearly all doctors (90%) recognized the Mediterranean Diet as protective against heart disease, but fewer than half (46%) realized that low-fat diets have not been proven to reduce heart disease risk. Additionally, many doctors had trouble identifying foods high in various nutrients, such as which fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These data highlight the importance of making reliable nutrition resources (specifically those relating to well researched eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet) available to the medical community. (Note: If you’re a healthcare professional who would like to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet, see here.)
Presentation at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session. San Diego CA. March 15, 2015. 

Med Diet Cuts Heart Disease Risk by Nearly Half

Researchers have given us yet another reason to fill our plates with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, and nuts! A European study followed more than 2,500 Greek adults for over a decade, tracking their medical records, lifestyle habits, and eating patterns. Those who most closely followed the Mediterranean Diet were 47% less likely to get heart disease, regardless of their smoking habits, age, family history, or other lifestyle factors. The scientists estimate that every one-point increase on the Mediterranean Diet score (a measure of how closely participants followed the Mediterranean Diet, on a scale of 1 to 55) is associated with a 3 percent drop in heart disease risk, so every little bit counts. In fact, the researchers found that the Mediterranean Diet was even more protective against heart disease than physical activity!
Presentation at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session. San Diego CA. March 15, 2015.