If you can’t cut out the bad foods totally from your diet, you can pile on more of the good stuff to save your heart. Tens of thousands of lives in the U.S. could be saved each year if Americans added more plant-based foods to their diets, according to a new study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Researchers linked more than 400,000 deaths in 2015 to heart and blood vessel diseases.
Eating more heart healthy foods and consuming less foods loaded with salt and trans fats could have prevented a substantial percentage these killer diseases, they say. The annual numbers are even higher. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of American deaths and claims one in every four lives each year. That’s a total of 610,000 lives lost.
Eating more nuts and seeds, vegetables, whole grains, fruits and the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood could save lives, the study concluded. Diets high in too much salt, transfat and saturated fat, processed red meat and sugary soft drinks contributed to the deaths, researchers found. The American Heart Association also emphasizes the importance of eating a healthy diet that also includes beans, low-fat dairy products and poultry.
The study was presented at a meeting this month of the American Heart Association in Portland, Ore.
Some of the leading risk factors of heart disease are not high intake of unhealthy foods but low intake of healthy foods, said the study’s lead author. This is true even though our attention focuses on our consumption of unhealthy food, such as sugar-sweetened soft drinks, said Ashkan Afshin, an acting assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
“Our results show that nearly half of cardiovascular disease deaths in the United States can be prevented by improving diet,” he said.
Researchers looked at the degree to which leading dietary risk factors were linked to cardiovascular disease deaths and found this:
- low intake of nuts and seeds (11.6 percent);
- low intake of vegetables (11.5 percent);
- low intake of whole grains (10.4 percent); and
- excess salt (9 percent).
One preventive medicine physician who was not involved in the study says balancing consumption of unhealthy foods with heart healthy food can be key.
“Typically, the higher the diet is in natural—not processed—plant-based foods, the lower the sodium intake is. So by eating more of the favored foods, the detrimental intakes of sodium, as well as trans-fat, and saturated fat and sugar are lower,” said Linda Van Horn of Northwestern University. She also acts as a spokeswoman for The American Heart Association.
Men’s higher consumption of salt is reflected in the new study, Dr. Afshin said. Researchers estimated that the U.S. deaths of 222,100 men and 193,400 women in 2015 were linked to unhealthy diets. The study showed results consistent with global patterns.
Read more on the study here.