Everything from how much you sit to what you eat can make or break your heart health. Whatever you’re putting your body through right now–whether it’s excessive stress or running a marathon—can either raise and reduce your risk of developing heart disease in the future. Considering heart disease is the most common killer in the U.S.—with 1 in 4 deaths being the result of a heart-related issue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—there’s no better time than the present to change things up for the sake of your heart health. Now, there’s a new item to put in the what-not-to-do category. New research has found that not only can eating one type of food make you more likely to develop heart disease, but it also raises your risk of dying from heart disease by 46 percent. Read on to find out what may want to consider when it comes to what you eat.
A June 30 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed the risk of dying from heart disease based on different types of diets. The researchers for the study used data on more than 21,000 people 45 years or older from 2003 to 2007, where participants were asked about their eating patterns. Participants were tested for cardiovascular disease events every six months and more than 400 sudden cardiac deaths occurred during the study period. According to the findings, participants who regularly ate a Southern-style diet had a 46 percent higher risk of sudden cardiac death than people who were least likely to stick to Southern food.
The Southern-style diet includes added fats; fried foods; eggs; organ meats such as liver or giblets; processed meats such as deli meat, bacon, and hot dogs; and sugar-sweetened beverages, according to the American Heart Association (AHA) study. But the researchers also examined five other types of diet patterns: Mediterranean, convenience, plant-based, sweets, and “alcohol and salad” (which includes alcoholic beverages along with leafy greens, tomatoes, and salad dressing). Convenience diets relied heavily on pasta dishes, pizza, Mexican food, and Chinese food, while sweets-based diets had people loading up on added sugars and desserts. However, neither of these caused a greater risk of death from heart disease like the Southern-style diet. “No other dietary patterns were significantly associated with risk of [sudden cardiac death],” the study authors wrote.
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The researchers found that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower risk of dying from heart disease. Those who regularly adhered to this way of eating—which includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, and legumes and very little meat and dairy—had a 26 percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death than those who were least likely to follow this dietary pattern.
“While this study was observational in nature, the results suggest that diet may be a modifiable risk factor for sudden cardiac death, and, therefore, diet is a risk factor that we have some control over,” James M. Shikany, DrPH, the study’s lead author and professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a statement. “Improving one’s diet—by eating a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish such as the Mediterranean diet and low in fried foods, organ meats and processed meats, characteristics of the Southern-style dietary pattern, may decrease one’s risk for sudden cardiac death.”
Overall, experts say that the best thing you can do for your heart is add more fruits and vegetables to your meals.
“People should evaluate the number of servings of fruit and vegetables they consume each day and try to increase the number to at least five to six servings per day, as recommended by the American Heart Association,” Stephen Juraschek, MD, a member of the AHA’s Nutrition Committee of the Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Council who was not involved in the study, said in a statement. According to Juraschek, “optimal would be eight to nine servings per day.”
The AHA also recommends that people limit saturated fats, sodium, added sugar, and processed meat—which are common staples in the Southern-style diet.