What We Eat—Some Surprises About Our Food and Heart Health

2022 has been a surprising year at times when it comes to studies of what we eat and how it affects heart health.

Although there have been numerous publications looking at this relationship this year—a few stood out to us, and they may have interesting implications for our diets.

Not All Saturated Fats Are Created Equal

It turns out that some saturated fats are better—or at least less harmful—for your heart health than others.

Up until now, previous research tended to compare saturated fats, such as those found in red meat, with polyunsaturated fats—those found in nuts, for example.

However, one study by Dr. Marinka Steur and Professor Nita Forouhi has challenged this prevailing opinion and sparked a new debate this year by looking at different saturated fat sources—namely saturated fat sources in meat and butter versus sources like cheese, fish, and yogurt.

Following over 27,000 middle-aged people from the EPIC-CVD registry, researchers found that people who ate more saturated fats from red meat and butter were more likely to develop heart disease. The opposite was true for those who ate more saturated fats from cheese, yogurt and fish – which were actually linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

The study authors think that may be due to some offsetting factors in some of these foods. Yogurt is high in vitamin K2 and probiotics, for example, while red meat’s palmitic acid can increase cholesterol. Meanwhile, the pentadecanoic acid found in cheese is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.


Vices—Chocolate, Wine, Coffee, And Full-Fat Dairy

A person’s diet is the single most important factor for determining their heart disease risk, according to one review of dietary recommendations published in the European Society of Cardiology Journal.

But some questions remain, even now, of the effects of moderate chocolate, wine, and coffee consumption on heart health.

Firstly, authors find no evidence that full-fat dairy carries a greater heart disease risk than low-fat dairy products do. The jury is still out on chocolate though, according to the recommendations.

As for wine, up to two glasses a day for men or one glass for women may actually have some cardiovascular benefits over both people who don’t drink at all and people who drink more than those amounts. But researchers caution there still may not be enough data to make that determination—and much of the available studies exclude people with diabetes and vegetarians.

As for coffee and tea, up to three cups a day may have some benefits for cardiovascular health, but not more.


The Plant-Based Diet – The Better Option?

More and more people around the world are becoming vegetarians, with big increases in places like Nigeria, Pakistan, Germany, Brazil, and Italy.

A plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily mean cutting out all meat, but it means having a “vegetable first” approach to meals. A typical plant-based diet includes whole grains, olive oil while avoiding trans fats, legumes, plenty of fruits of all colours, and nuts – those food groups that have a positive effect on heart health. Thus, a plant-based diet can be a smart choice if you want to optimize your heart health.

Also, it’s never too late to start. Researchers have recently found that starting a plant-based diet has a heart health benefit at any age, and it increases the earlier you start. People who ate a plant-based diet were followed for thirty years and were 52 percent less likely to develop heart disease.

At the same time, women who started around age 50 were 14 percent less likely to develop heart disease 15 years later.

Whatever the right diet is for you – a healthy and sensible diet is a good start to minimize health risks such as your Atrial Fibrillation risk.



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