Embrace plant-based foods, limit most meats to avoid heart disease

A team of nutrition experts has shared new dietary recommendations for preventing heart disease, highlighting the importance of consuming high amounts of plant-based foods and keeping processed meats to a minimum.

The analysis, published in full in Cardiovascular Research, includes insights taken from observational studies and large clinical trials alike. The authors emphasized that people should take a complete look at their eating habits if they really want to make a difference and see results.    

“There is no indication that any food is poison in terms of cardiovascular risk,” lead author Gabriele Riccari, MD, a professor at metabolic diseases at the University of Naples Federico II in Italy, said in a statement. “It’s a matter of quantity and frequency of consumption. A mistake we made in the past was to consider one dietary component the enemy and the only thing we had to change. Instead, we need to look at diets as a whole and if we reduce the amount of one food, it is important to choose a healthy replacement.”

Riccari et al. noted that plant-based foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts have been associated with a lower risk of atherosclerosis. Avoiding butter and other animal fats—and replacing them with vegetable fats—has been found to have a similar effect.

Also, the team wrote, eating a moderate amount of poultry—roughly three servings per week—is recommended. Red meats should be limited to two servings per week, however, and processed meats should only be eaten occasionally, if at all.

The authors also examined the benefits of certain dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, though each should still be enjoyed in moderation.

“We now understand that gut bacteria play a major role in influencing cardiovascular risk,” Riccari said. “Fermented dairy products contain good bacteria which promote health.”

Curious what the experts say you should drink? Coffee and tea are recommended—up to three cups a day, in fact—but sugar-sweetened beverages should be replaced with water whenever possible.

Read the full analysis here.

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