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Junk Food Responsible For One-Third Of Heart Attacks

October 21, 2008

Canadian scientists said Monday that more than one third of all heart attacks worldwide are caused by “Western” diets containing high amounts of meat, salt and fried foods.

Their research found that people who had diets based on meat, eggs and junk food were more likely to have heart attacks, while those who consumed more vegetables and fruits lowered their risk.

The study of 52 countries supports previous findings that animal fats and junk food can cause heart disease, especially heart attacks.

Dr. Salim Yusuf at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and his team surveyed more than 16,000 patients, 5,700 of whom had just experienced their first heart attack.  The researchers obtained blood samples and had each participant complete a detailed survey about their eating habits between February 1999 and March 2003.

The scientists then broke the participants into three groups.

“The first factor was labeled ‘Oriental’ because of its high loading on tofu and soy and other sauces,” the scientists wrote in a report about the study.

“The second factor was labeled ‘Western’ because of its high loading on fried food, salty snacks, and meat intake. The third dietary factor was labeled ‘prudent’ because of its high loadings on fruit and vegetable intake.”

Dr. Yusuf’s team found that participants who consumed more fruits and vegetables lowered their risk of heart attack by 30 percent compared with those who ate little or none of these foods.

Furthermore, the group that ate a Western diet had a 35 percent greater risk of heart attack compared to those who consumed little or no meat and fried foods. 

People eating an “Oriental” diet had an average risk of heart attack compared to the others. The researchers said the tofu-rich diet might be neutral rather than protective due to its high sodium content, which can raise blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart attacks.

The study’s findings are significant since it has not been clearly established whether food or some other cause was driving up the risk of heart attacks. For example, diets rich in fatty foods may be associated with a more affluent lifestyle that includes little or no exercise. The researchers noted, however, that it is not only the rich who suffer from heart disease.

“Approximately 80 percent of the global cardiovascular disease burden occurs in low- and middle-income countries,” they wrote.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

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