Greater adherence to a variety of healthy eating patterns was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to new research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The findings dietary guidelines that focus on healthy eating patterns rather than individual foods and nutrients.
Although each healthy eating pattern represents a different combination of dietary constituents, the study indicates that greater adherence to any of the four healthy eating patterns studies is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and the health benefits persist across racial and ethnic groups.
Few studies have examined how adhering to recommended healthy eating patterns influence long-term risk of CVD.
About the study
For this study, researchers focused how well participants’ diets matched four healthy eating patterns: Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015), Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score (AMED), Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index (HPDI) and the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI).
Despite different scoring methods, each of these patterns emphasizes higher intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts and lower intakes of red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
To examine the associations of each pattern with CVD risk, the researchers looked at data from 74,930 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study, 90,864 women in the Nurses' Health Study II, and 43,339 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Participants in each study were asked every two to four years about their dietary habits, including how often, on average, they consumed a standard portion size of various foods.
Using the dietary data, which was collected over several decades, the researchers created four dietary scores for each participant. Higher dietary scores represented greater adherence to healthy eating patterns.
After adjusting for numerous factors, including age, BMI and smoking status, the analysis found that greater adherence to any of the healthy eating patterns was consistently associated with lower risk of CVD.
The study found that participants whose diets most closely matched the healthy eating patterns (those in the top quartile of the scores) had a 14% to 21% lower risk of CVD when compared with those who adhered the least (in the bottom quartile of the scores).
The different healthy eating patterns were similarly effective at lowering CVD risk across racial and ethnic groups, and that they were associated with a lower risk of both coronary heart disease and stroke.
The researchers said, “there is no one-size-fits-all diet that is best for everyone. One can combine foods in a variety of ways to achieve a healthy eating pattern according to a person’s health needs, food preferences and cultural traditions."
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