Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are good for you. Everyone knows that. Now, a new study finds they may cut your chances of heart failure by 41%. Conversely, the so-called Southern diet, which focuses on meats, fried and processed foods and lots of sweet tea, was tied to a 72% increased risk of heart failure.
"Eat more plants, limit red and processed meat," said lead researcher Dr. Kyla Lara, a cardiology fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Lara cautioned that this study cannot prove different diets cause or prevent heart failure, only that they are linked.
Nearly 6 million American adults suffer from heart failure, and that number is expected to rise with the aging population. The condition occurs when the heart does not pump blood sufficiently to meet the body's needs.
Steps to prevent heart failure include not smoking, keeping blood pressure under control, maintaining a healthy weight and eating healthy foods. Getting people to eat healthier requires that they be educated about the benefits of plant-based diets and have access to low-cost healthy foods, Lara said.
In the study, Lara and her colleagues collected data on more than 16,000 men and women, 45 and older, who took part in a large U.S. stroke study. None of the participants had heart disease at the start of the study. Participants completed a questionnaire that asked them about their diet.
The diets were classified into five types:
- Convenience, which was heavy on meats, pasta, Mexican food, pizza and fast food.
- Plant-based, which included vegetables, fruits, beans and fish.
- Sweets and fats, which was heavy on desserts, bread, sweet breakfast foods, chocolate and other sugars.
- Southern, which was heavy on fried foods, processed meats, eggs, added fats, and sugar-sweetened drinks.
- Alcohol and salads, which was heavy on wine, liquor, beer, leafy greens and salad dressing.
After nearly nine years of follow-up, 363 participants developed heart failure.
The benefit of the plant-based diet was significant, but after taking into account factors such as weight, waist size, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the negative effect of the Southern diet was no longer statistically significant, Lara said. It might be that the increased risk for heart failure in this group was due to obesity and excess belly fat or other factors, she said.
None of the other diets showed a statistically significant association with heart failure, and no association was seen between any diet and the type of heart failure people developed, the researchers noted.