Researchers have identified healthy eating patterns that reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). The findings align with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which focus on healthy eating patterns rather than specific nutrients to better account for diverse cultural food traditions and preferences.
Study first author Zhilei Shan is a research associate in the Department of Nutrition in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Although each healthy eating pattern represents a different combination of dietary constituents, our study indicates that greater adherence to any of the four healthy eating patterns we looked at is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and the health benefits persist across racial and ethnic groups,” said Shan.
Few studies have investigated the relationship between healthy dietary patterns and the long term risk of cardiovascular disease.
In the current study, the researchers examined four dietary patterns: Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015); Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score (AMED); Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index (HPDI); and Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI).
Each of these patterns has its own unique scoring metrics, yet they all emphasize higher consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts along with lower consumption of red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.
To analyze the cardiovascular disease risk associated with each eating pattern, the experts focused on data from more than 200,000 men and women from three large cohort studies, including the Nurses’ Health Study. The participants reported on their dietary habits every two to four years over several decades.
The researchers calculated four dietary scores for each participant, and the higher scores represented greater commitment to a healthy diet. The study revealed that adherence to any of the four healthy eating patterns was consistently associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
The participants who adhered most to the established dietary patterns were found to have a 14 to 21 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease when compared with those who did not stick with their healthy diets.
The four healthy dietary patterns lowered CVD risk regardless of race or ethnicity, and the patterns were statistically associated with lower risk of both coronary heart disease and stroke.
“These data provide further evidence to support current dietary guidelines that following healthy eating patterns confers long-term health benefits on cardiovascular disease prevention,” said study co-author Frank Hu.
“There is no one-size-fits-all diet that is best for everyone. One can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy eating patterns according to individuals’ health needs, food preferences, and cultural traditions.”
The study is published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.