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New Research Rates Best Heart-Healthy Foods

April 14, 2009

An analysis by Canadian researchers of nearly 200 previous studies finds a limited knowledge about what type of diet best protects the heart.

However, a general consensus is that nuts, vegetables and a Mediterranean diet are heart-healthy, while transfats and starchy carbohydrates are generally bad for our hearts.

Foods of questionable benefit or risk include eggs, meat, milk and many others that lack conclusive evidence about whether they are good or bad for the heart.

“I do research. I also buy groceries for my family every week,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Sonia Anand of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

She told the Associated Press she hopes the findings will “decrease the confusion around what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat.”

The study, supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health, provides a complex description of how the researchers rated 189 prior studies involving millions of people.  The scientists used criteria developed by the late British researcher Sir Austin Bradford Hill, who helped confirm a link between smoking and lung cancer.

The researchers put a certain food or diet at the top of the list once multiple studies showed a strong link with better heart health.

The short list of foods with strong links to heart health highlights the uncertainty surrounding the issue, according to Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Linda Van Horn, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said the analysis is more about the pros and cons of previous studies rather than direct advice for consumers.

However, the analysis does confirm the benefits of a Mediterranean diet of vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and olive oil compared with a typical Western diet of red and processed meats, refined grains and high-fat dairy, she said.

Beyond that, there is no reason for consumers to dramatically altar their grocery shopping lists, she added.

“It’s really about the totality of the usual eating pattern, rather than whether you ate a hot dog on opening day of baseball season.”

The study appears in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

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