How the Food on Your Plate Might Affect Your Heart

Heart disease risk dropped for adults eating vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The healthy choices you make at breakfast, lunch and dinner don’t just make you feel better — they could be adding years to your life.

A recent study found that men and women who followed healthy diet guidelines cut their risk of heart disease.

The authors of this study compared two groups of adults. One group followed a “traditional British diet” while the other ate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish.

After only 12 weeks, the group with the healthy diet had lost weight and had lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

"Ideally, a heart smart diet will include at least 8 servings of fruits and veggies daily, with a serving being 1/2 to one cup," said Sarah Samaan, MD, a board-certified cardiologist and physician partner with the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, TX, in an interview with dailyRx News. "A good green salad at dinner and a few pieces of fruit for snack times should fit the bill. Incorporating whole grains is as easy as a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and a sandwich on whole grain bread for lunch."

Dr. Samaan continued, "And while fish might not be on everyone's weekly menu, there are so many different varieties and ways of cooking seafood that it shouldn't be hard to come up with something that will suit your taste. Just be sure to avoid fried fish, which is often more caloric and higher in saturated fats than a cheeseburger."

The authors of the current study, led by Thomas A. B. Sanders, PhD, of King’s College London, concluded that the health improvements “would be expected to reduce the risk of [heart disease] by one-third in healthy middle-aged and older men and women.”

Heart disease refers to several heart and circulation problems, including high blood pressure and narrow arteries, that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Sanders and team recruited 162 healthy, nonsmoking adults. Some of the patients were assigned to the control group, which followed a diet including red meat, potatoes and refined cereals like white bread.

The second group followed a heart-healthy diet, which included fish once weekly, an emphasis on fruits and vegetables and two servings of whole grains per day.

These researchers measured the patients' blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body weight before the study began and after 12 weeks.

They found that participants in the healthy diet group lost an average of 1.3 kilograms (2.9 pounds), while the control group gained 0.6 kilograms (1.3 pounds).

Also, compared to the control group, those who ate a healthy diet saw drops in blood pressure. Cholesterol levels fell by 8 percent in the healthy diet group.

The participants who ate a more balanced, nutritious diet reduced their risk of fatal heart disease by 15 percent and nonfatal heart disease by 30 percent, Dr. Sanders and team estimated.

“Our findings apply to middle-aged and older people without existing health problems,” Dr. Sanders said in a press release. “This is important because most heart attacks and strokes occur in those not identified as being at high risk.”

This study was published March 18 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The UK Food Standards Agency and Department of Health and the National Institute for Health Research funded this study. Dr. Sanders disclosed ties to GlaxoSmithKline and similar organizations.

Review Date: 
March 18, 2015
Last Updated:
March 20, 2015