It’s no secret that eating more healthy foods and avoiding unhealthy ones can help stave off disease and keep your body in top shape, but what foods exactly are best for combating disease? That’s what researchers from McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences at the Population Research Health Institute in Canada sought to find out.
More specifically, the aim of the study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, was “to develop a healthy diet score that is associated with health outcomes and is globally applicable using data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study and replicate it in five independent studies on a total of 245 000 people from 80 countries.”
What the study authors found was that failure to consume six key healthy types of food was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death worldwide.
Study: 6 Key Healthy Foods for the Heart, Health
How did the researchers determine this?
First, they developed a healthy score in nearly 148,000 people from the general population of 21 countries that participated in the PURE study, “and the consistency of the associations of the score with events was examined in five large independent studies from 70 countries. The healthy diet score was developed based on six foods each of which has been associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality [i.e. fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and dairy (mainly whole-fat); range of scores, 0–6].”
Then there was a follow-up that occurred a median of 9.3 years later to compare the diet score. A higher diet score (meaning healthier diet that included more of the six healthy foods) was associated with a lower risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), myocardial infarction and stroke.
This was found to be the case in three independent studies in vascular patients, along with two case-control studies.
Ultimately, the study authors concluded: “A diet comprised of higher amounts of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and whole-fat dairy is associated with lower CVD and mortality in all world regions, especially in countries with lower income where consumption of these foods is low.”
That means, in order to stave off heart disease and all-cause mortality, you should make sure to consume plenty of:
One thing that made this study really impactful is that it focused on real, natural food.
“We were unique in that focus. The other diet scores combined foods considered to be harmful – such as processed and ultra-processed foods – with foods and nutrients believed to be protective of one’s health,” said first author Andrew Mente, PHRI scientist and assistant professor at McMaster’s Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, in a press release.
“There is a recent increased focus on higher consumption of protective foods for disease prevention. Outside of larger amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, the researchers showed that moderation is key in the consumption of natural foods,” he said.
“Moderate amounts of fish and whole-fat dairy are associated with a lower risk of CVD and mortality. The same health outcomes can be achieved with moderate consumption of grains and meats – as long as they are unrefined whole grains and unprocessed meats.”
In addition, according the accompanying release:
The PURE Healthy Diet Score recommends an average daily intake of: Fruits at two to three servings; vegetables at two to three servings; nuts at one serving; and dairy at two servings. The score also includes three to four weekly servings of legumes and two to three weekly servings of fish. Possible substitutes included whole grains at one serving daily, and unprocessed red meat or poultry at one serving daily.
Other Heart-Healthy Foods
In addition to the six foods outlined in the study, you should consume the following heart-healthy foods as well to help prevent heart disease and early death: