Most of us know foods like doughnuts and hot dogs are far from heart healthy, but you may be surprised to learn that apple juice and apple cider also raise your risk for coronary heart disease. Why? Unlike the simple apple, the process used to make these products increases their concentration of sugar content, reduces fiber and makes them higher in calories.
On the other hand, drinking red wine in moderation is heart-healthy; ditto for peanuts, yogurt, raisins and even some popular cold breakfast cereals.
This refinement of dietary yes’s and no’s comes from a recent study aimed at identifying those foods and their nutrients that support our heart health, and those that hurt it. About 18 million Americans suffer with some form of heart disease, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). So researchers at Northeastern University, Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital took a closer look at the kind of health outcomes associated with a variety of diets.
The responsibility of a heart-healthy diet rests not only on individuals choosing the right foods, but also on the manufacturers and suppliers of our meals.
In order to more clearly pinpoint which foods support our hearts and which may hurt it, the researchers used diet data from the Nurses’ Health Study, a national survey that followed the eating patterns and health outcomes of around 63,000 female nurses over the course of 30 years. While analyzing 117 foods and 257 nutrients the scientists were able to zero in on particular aspects of food, including preparation, processing and chemical compounds that affected the heart’s health. The difference can be tricky. For example, the researchers found that whole grain carbohydrates and milled whole grain carbohydrates had risk factors dependent on the foods in which they were found.
The complex study concluded that ultimately the responsibility of a heart-healthy diet rests not only on individuals choosing the right foods, but also on the manufacturers and suppliers of our meals. “We can educate people to have a better diet, but we also have to improve the food supply itself,” said Giulia Menichetti, a contributor to the study and associate research scientist at Northeastern University’s Center for Complex Network Research.
The study had a few limitations worth keeping in mind. All its subjects were women employed as nurses and therefore not necessarily a representative sample of the general population. It also didn’t consider other possible influences — such as stress or environmental factors like smoking and pollution — that can also cause heart problems. That said, the scientists are hoping their findings put heart health and its relationship to the food we eat center stage, where it belongs.
The study is published in the journal, Nature Communications.