A global study looking at protective foods
Previous research focused mostly on Western countries and diets that combined harmful, ultra-processed foods with nutrient-dense foods. Researchers from McMaster University and the Population Research Health Institute decided to make a study that was global in scope and focused on foods commonly considered to be healthy.
They derived a diet score from the Population Research Health Institute’s ongoing Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study. They then used it in 5 independent studies to measure health outcomes in different world regions and in people with and without prior CVD. In total, they analysed data from 245,000 people from 80 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,” said co-author Salim Yusuf.
Healthy foods associated with low risk of CVD
The researchers concluded that a diet made up of higher amounts of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and whole-fat dairy was associated with lower CVD, including heart attacks and strokes, and mortality in all world regions, especially in countries with lower income where consumption of these foods is low.
They also observed that moderation is key when it comes to natural foods. This extends the recommended food list to whole grains and non-processed meats.
“Moderate amounts of fish and whole-fat dairy are associated with a lower risk of CVD and mortality. The same health outcomes can be achieved with moderate consumption of grains and meats, as long as they are unrefined whole grains and unprocessed meats,” said first author Andrew Mente.
The 6 recommended food groups
Putting it all together, the PURE Healthy Diet Score used in the study offers the following recommendations for CVD risk reduction. People should, on average, aim for the following in their diet:
- Daily 2-3 servings of fruits
- Daily 2-3 servings of vegetables
- Daily 2 servings of dairy
- Daily 1 serving of nuts
- Weekly 3-4 servings legumes
- Weekly 2-3 servings of fish
- Substitutes: daily 1 serving of whole grains, daily 1 serving of unprocessed red meat or poultry
Is your diet close to these recommendations? Don’t be discouraged if you’re not meeting these high standards. Many people aren’t. Try to make one small change in the right direction. That’s better than what most do. Not getting enough fruits and vegetables? Add one serving of those per day. It’s actually relatively easy to do, just add 7 extra apples to your weekly shopping list. If you can do that and feel comfortable, you can take another step further in the future.