Diets that limit fat reduce cholesterol BUT not cardviovascular risk

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine reveals that a whole diet approach, which focuses on increased intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish, has more evidence for reducing cardiovascular risk than strategies that focus exclusively on reduced dietary fat.

  • This study explains that while strictly low-fat diets have the ability to lower cholesterol, they are not as conclusive in reducing cardiac deaths.

Early investigations of the relationship between food and heart disease linked high levels of serum cholesterol to increased intake of saturated fat, and subsequently, an increased rate of coronary heart disease. This led to the American Heart Association’s recommendation to limit fat intake to less than 30% of daily calories, saturated fat to 10%, and cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day.

“Nearly all clinical trials in the 1960s, 70s and 80s compared usual diets to those characterized by low total fat, low saturated fat, low dietary cholesterol, and increased polyunsaturated fats,” says study co-author James E. Dalen, MD, MPH, Weil Foundation, and University of Arizona College of Medicine.

  • “These diets did reduce cholesterol levels. However they did not reduce the incidence of myocardial infarction or coronary heart disease deaths.” (In other words cholesterol reduction is not a factor for reducing cardiovascular risk)

Carefully analyzing studies and trials from 1957 to the present, investigators found that the whole diet approach, and specifically Mediterranean-style diets, are effective in preventing heart disease, even though they may not lower total serum or LDL cholesterol. The Mediterranean-style diet is low in animal products and saturated fat, and encourages intake of monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil. In particular, the diet emphasizes consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and fish.

Based on the data from several influential studies, which are reviewed in the article, Dalen and Devries concluded that emphasizing certain food groups, while encouraging people to decrease others, is more cardioprotective and overall better at preventing heart disease than a blanket low-fat diet.

  • Encouraging the consumption of olive oil over butter and cream, while increasing the amount of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish promises to be more effective.

Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease

Flavonoids are plant-based phytochemicals with cardiovascular protective properties. Researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the association between flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease.

What they found was: “Flavonoid consumption was associated with lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Most inverse associations appeared with intermediate intakes, suggesting that even relatively small amounts of flavonoid-rich foods may be beneficial.” (1)

Fruits and vegetables obtain their color and flavor from substances known as flavonoids (or bioflavonoids). Flavonoids can be found in most fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, grains and soy products. they are especially high in citrus fruit, tomatoes, berries, peppers, carrots, onions, kale and grapes. You can also drink your flavonoids, which are present in tea, coffee or red wine.

Flavonoids are members of a family of plant substances known as phytochemicals. these are strong antioxidants that protect your cells from free radicals.

In cardiovascular disease flavonoids may prevent swelling in the legs due to fluid retention and may help treat diabetic neuropathy and high  blood pressure. A recent study showed that men who consumed high amounts of flavonoids were 33 percent less likely to die from a heart attack. Most of the studies performed on flavonoids have demonstrated their effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of various cancers.

Flavonoids and isoflavones are both major groups of phytochemicals, naturally occurring substances in plants that provide strong antioxidant activity. They’re found in both fruits and vegetables and are associated with reductions in cancer rates and heart disease.

More Phytochemicals in your meals
Increase your intake and serving sizes of vegetables.  Snack on fresh fruit or dried fruit instead of candy. Include beans in your stews, soups and pasta.  Flavor your foods with herbs and spices, such as ginger, rosemary, thyme, garlic, parsley, basil and chives. Add vegetables such as mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, and onions, along with herbs when making an omelet.  Eat meatless dinners three or more times per week.  Drink 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice instead of soda.  Add sautéed onions, mushrooms and peppers to whole-grain dishes such as rice, barley, millet, couscous, or buckwheat.  Use baby carrots for snacks between meals. Try hummus as a healthy vegetable dip.  When preparing raw vegetable salads, try to include asparagus, red peppers, zucchini, broccoli, sweet potato sticks, cauliflower, carrots and celery.

1. New Analysis Suggests Whole Diet Approach to Lower Cardiovascular Risk Has More Evidence Than Low-Fat Diets

2. Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality in a prospective cohort of US. McCullough M, Peterson JJ, Patel R,et al. Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality in a prospective cohort of US First published January 4, 2012, doi: 10.3945​ajcn.111.016634. Am J Clin Nutr.