Four dietary patterns
Researchers decided to use dietary scores for the following four healthy eating patterns.
• Healthy Eating Index-2015
• Alternate Mediterranean Diet Index
• Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index
• Alternate Healthy Eating Index
Each of these diets has its own set of recommendations but they do have a lot in common. All four encourage a lower intake of sugary beverages and processed meat. They also all advise a higher intake of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts.
21 % lower risk of heart disease
To evaluate how each of these diets impacts heart disease, the researchers evaluated data from over 200,000 women and men from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Participants in those studies were asked about their dietary habits every 2–4 years for up to 32 years. Based on this data, researchers estimated how closely each participant adhered to one of the four selected diets. Then they adjusted for factors like age, BMI, smoking and the results were clear.
Good adherence to a healthy diet was associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The top 25 % of people who adhered to healthy eating patterns the most had 14–21 % lower risk of heart disease than the bottom 25 % who adhered the worst.
“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 a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and the health benefits persist across racial and ethnic groups,” said Zhilei Shan, the lead author of the study.
All four diets worked well
The good news for everyone is that the study also showed that all four diets were similarly effective at lowering the risk of both coronary heart disease and stroke. This means that whatever your preferred way of healthy eating is, you are likely doing something for your health.
“These data provide further evidence to support current dietary guidelines that following healthy eating patterns confer long-term health benefits on cardiovascular disease prevention. 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,” said corresponding author Frank B. Hu.