A large study called REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) collected data about what people eat every day. 18000 adults over 45 years of age submitted information on their daily diets. The study was funded by NIH (National Institutes of Health) and was designed to determine if there is a correlation between typical diet patterns and the risk of developing heart failure.
Heart failure is a chronic condition that tends to worsen over time. It’s when the heart cannot effectively pump enough blood throughout the body, therefore reducing the amount of oxygen that goes to the various tissues. Almost 6 million Americans struggle with heart failure and it can eventually cause death.
Through the dietary data collected in this study, the researchers identified 5 general patterns of eating, categorizing them as the following: a convenience diet of Mexican and Chinese-style meals mixed with meats and beans; plant-based diets rich in fruit, vegetables, cereal, fish, and poultry; alcohol/salad with beer/wine, green leafy vegetables, salad dressings, nuts, seeds, and coffee; a sweets diets with fats, bread, chocolate, desserts, and sweet breakfast food; and a Southern diet of fats, fried food, organ and processed meats, fatty milk, and eggs. They followed up about 8 years after collecting the data to determine how many of the participants developed heart failure. All the participants were considered to be in good health at the beginning of the study and had no notable disease.
It was found that people who consumed the plant-based diet had a 28% reduced risk of developing heart failure. The plant-based diet consisted of a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, incorporating lean proteins like fish and poultry. Of the five diets, it was the only one that significantly helped reduce the risk of heart failure.
One of the researchers involved in the study says “Eating a diet mostly of dark green leafy plants, fruits, beans, whole grains and fish, while limiting processed meats, saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates and foods high in added sugars is a heart-healthy lifestyle and may specifically help prevent heart failure if you don’t already have it.” The American Heart Association also recommends a diet comprised of “a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, beans, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts; and limits intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats.” It’s important to note that this is the key to preventing heart failure, not reversing it once it starts.
The data collected in this study is important because it supports the protective role of a plant-based heart-healthy diet. It also reinforces the necessity of avoiding processed, packaged and fried foods to keep the heart fit.