One in every four men and women in the United States who die are victims of heart disease. In fact, while cancer and other diseases are deadly, heart disease is the number one killer.
This makes following heart disease prevention strategies, like the ones laid out by the American Heart Association that include exercise and weight loss, vital.
However, while some of these strategies are clear, such as getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a week, others have been murkier. This is especially true in the case of the recommendation to choose a healthy diet.
After all, there are a lot of diets to choose from, including Paleo, Keto, Atkins or Mediterranean. And how much of each food group should you eat?
The questions are endless.
But thanks to new evidence, we have a clearer idea about how to eat to keep our hearts healthy — including how much and how often some of those foods we’ve been told to avoid can be enjoyed…
Looking at your diet as a whole
The paper, published in Cardiovascular Research, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology, says it’s important to remember that, “There is no indication that any food is poison in terms of cardiovascular risk. It’s a matter of quantity and frequency of consumption.”
And the lead author, Professor Gabriele Riccardi of the University of Naples Federico II, Italy, goes on to point out, “A mistake we made in the past was to consider one dietary component the enemy and the only thing we had to change. Instead, we need to look at diets as a whole and if we reduce the amount of one food, it is important to choose a healthy replacement.”
So what and how much should you eat?
#1 – Meats
The study found that since both red and processed meats are linked an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, they should be limited.
Keep your red meat to two 100 gram servings per week. And make processed meats like bacon and sausage an occasional indulgence.
On the other hand, poultry, which shows no relationship to heart disease at moderate intakes, can be consumed at levels of up to three servings of 100 grams per week.
Fish, which is even better for your heart and may actually prevent cardiovascular disease, should be consumed at least twice a week, but up to four times.
One meta-analysis of five dietary studies found that people who eat a pescatarian diet are 34 percent less likely to die from coronary artery disease than people who eat meat.
#2 – Legumes and nuts
The results of the study showed that legumes make a great protein replacement for the red meant you should limit in your diet. So enjoy up to four servings of 180 g per week!
Regarding nuts, a handful (or approximately 30 g) per day is recommended.
#3 – Fruits and veggies
Fruits and veggies have the power to lower your risk of atherosclerosis (that buildup of plaque in your arteries that causes them to harden).
Shoot for daily consumption of these heart-healthy options at a level of 400 grams each.
#4 – Dairy
You may have heard the advice to switch to low-fat dairy for better heart health.
Well, hold onto your hat! This study found that for the healthy population, there is no requirement to use low-fat, instead of full-fat, dairy products to prevent heart disease.
Instead, it found that both full-fat and low-fat dairy products can play a role in a balanced diet, with no increased heart risk, when consumed at moderate levels.
“Small quantities of cheese (three servings of 50 g per week) and regular yogurt consumption (200 g per day) are even linked with a protective effect due to the fact that they are fermented,” said Professor Riccardi. “We now understand that gut bacteria play a major role in influencing cardiovascular risk. Fermented dairy products contain good bacteria which promote health.”
#5 – Cereals and grains
For cereals and grains, the recommendations are a little different, since they all have to do with their glycemic index or GI.
Glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly a food raises your blood sugar. So, the researchers recommend sticking to low GI foods like whole grain bread, rice, oats, and barley.
And be sure to limit your high GI foods, such as white bread and rice, to two servings per week.
#6 – Beverages
The study also broke down the good, the bad and the ugly of beverages. And it came down to this:
- For heart protection, drink up to three cups daily of coffee and tea.
- Moderate alcohol consumption (equal to two glasses a day of wine in men and one for women or one beer) lowers the risk of heart disease. But it’s important to note that this is a maximum — not a minimum!
- Finally, sodas, including low-calorie options, are linked with a higher risk and should be replaced with water except on limited occasions.
#7 – Chocolate
And it’s time for some really good news for chocolate lovers everywhere.
The researchers say that when it comes to a sweet treat, eating 10 grams of dark chocolate per day can be beneficial to your heart.
If you’re not a fan of dark chocolate, there’s some evidence that milk chocolate has some metabolic benefits.
Lowering your heart disease risk
One last piece of advice from Professor Riccardi…
“We need to rediscover culinary traditions such as the Mediterranean diet which has delicious recipes using beans, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables.”
The Mediterranean diet was endorsed in the 2019 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. And the Pesco-Mediterranean diet gets even bigger accolades, considered by some experts as the ultimate health healthy diet.
Remember, the more you do to protect your heart, the more you protect your life.
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!
What should I eat to avoid heart disease? — EurekAlert!
How to Help Prevent Heart Disease At Any Age — American Heart Association