Article image

Six key foods proven to lower the risk of heart disease

A recent study led by McMaster University presents new hope for a solution to the plague of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which was responsible for nearly 18 million deaths in 2019. In collaboration with experts at the Hamilton Health Sciences’ Population Research Health Institute (PHRI), the researchers have discovered that the consumption of six key foods can significantly lower the risk of developing CVD.

This research, published in the European Heart Journal, emphasizes the importance of adding these size key foods to your diet:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Whole-fat dairy products

Regular intake of these key foods, the study suggests, could be the key to tackling heart diseases and strokes – the two main culprits responsible for 85 percent of CVD-related deaths.

The focus on these health-promoting foods sets this study apart from its predecessors. “Previous and similar research has focused on Western countries and diets that combined harmful, ultra-processed foods with nutrient-dense foods,” said the researchers. 

Team gathered global data on six key foods

The team set out to get a global view, with the analysis spanning 80 countries and including data from 245,000 individuals.

The novel approach was made possible by the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study, conducted by PHRI. The researchers developed a diet score based on the PURE study and tested its replicability in five independent studies. 

Each of these studies, aimed at measuring health outcomes, included individuals from different world regions and different health backgrounds.

According to Salim Yusuf, the senior author and principal investigator of PURE, this research shines a light on populations beyond the Western countries.

“Previous diet scores – including the EAT-Lancet Planetary Diet and the Mediterranean Diet tested the relationship of diet to CVD and death mainly in Western countries. The PURE Healthy Diet Score included a good representation of high, middle, and low-income countries.”

A shift in dietary research 

The groundbreaking PURE Healthy Diet Score marks a paradigm shift in dietary research. Professor Andrew Mente, PHRI scientist and assistant professor in McMaster’s Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, explained.

“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.”

Professor Mente emphasizes the significance of protective foods and the importance of moderation.

“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.”

In fact, moderate consumption of fish, whole-fat dairy, grains, and meats, specifically unrefined whole grains and unprocessed meats, can also lower the risk of CVD and mortality.

Dietary changes help cardiovascular disease

The research puts forth the PURE Healthy Diet Score’s recommendations for a balanced diet, advocating an average daily intake of two to three servings each of fruits and vegetables, one serving of nuts, and two servings of dairy.

It also advises three to four weekly servings of legumes and two to three weekly servings of fish. Possible substitutes include a daily serving of whole grains and unprocessed red meat or poultry.

Notably, no specific funding was allotted for this comprehensive analysis. Instead, each contributing study was separately funded and conducted over a significant 25-year period.

This international research effort suggests that simple dietary changes can help combat CVD, one of the world’s most deadly health issues.

The study also offers hope for a future where health is not determined by geographical or economic boundaries but rather by universal access to knowledge about key foods.

More about cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), a group of disorders that affect the heart and blood vessels, stands as the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. It includes conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, congenital heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke.


The etiology of CVD is multifactorial, implicating various modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, obesity, and harmful alcohol use amplify the risk.

In addition, medical conditions like hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes also contribute to the pathogenesis of CVD. Non-modifiable risk factors encompass age, sex, and genetics.


In CVD, the pathophysiology often involves the development of atherosclerosis – a process that thickens and hardens the arterial walls. This occurs when low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, accumulates in the arterial wall, inciting an inflammatory response.

Over time, the cholesterol-laden, inflammatory cells form a plaque that can limit blood flow. If the plaque ruptures, it can trigger a blood clot. This may block the artery completely, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Symptoms and diagnosis

CVD manifests differently depending on the specific condition. Common symptoms include chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, palpitations, fatigue, and fainting. In conditions like stroke, symptoms might include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, confusion, trouble speaking, and loss of balance.

Diagnosis of CVD involves a combination of patient history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. These tests can include electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiography, stress testing, coronary angiography, blood tests, and more. Imaging techniques like computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also aid in the diagnosis of various CVDs.


Treatment for CVD varies based on the type and severity of the disease. Medical therapy forms the first line of defense and includes cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins), blood pressure medications, antiplatelet drugs, and anticoagulants.

Lifestyle modifications are an essential part of managing CVD. This includes quitting smoking, adopting a heart-healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and moderating alcohol consumption.

In advanced cases, invasive procedures like angioplasty and stent placement, coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), valve repair or replacement, pacemaker or defibrillator placement, and heart transplant may be necessary.


Primary prevention of CVD involves addressing modifiable risk factors. Public health interventions focus on encouraging a healthy lifestyle. This includes a balanced diet, regular physical activity, avoidance of tobacco and harmful use of alcohol.

Secondary prevention, on the other hand, aims at preventing the recurrence of cardiovascular events in people with established disease. This is done mainly through the use of medication and lifestyle changes.

In summary, cardiovascular disease, while a significant global health issue, is largely preventable. Comprehensive strategies targeting prevention, early detection, and treatment are key to reducing the global burden of CVD.

Ongoing research continues to deepen our understanding of the disease and develop innovative approaches to combat its pervasive impact.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day