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    Nutrition: 6 key foods to incorporate into a healthy diet
    • July 13, 2023

    There’s no doubt that eating fewer ultra-processed foods is beneficial for cardiovascular health. However, eating a healthful diet is not just about eating fewer processed foods, but consuming adequate amounts of certain nutrient-dense foods. In fact, researchers have determined that not eating enough of six key foods is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke, in adults.

    The World Health Organization estimates that cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide. The results of a study spanning 80 countries and 245,000 subjects published this month in the European Heart Journal found that the top foods to lower CVD risk are fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and whole milk dairy products. They also found that whole grains and unprocessed meats can be included in a healthful dietary pattern in moderation.

    Based on the research findings, a dietary pattern beneficial for cardiovascular health should include an average daily intake of two to three servings of fruit, two to three servings of vegetables, one serving of nuts and two servings of dairy. Legumes such as lentils and chickpeas should be consumed three to four times weekly and fish should be consumed two to three times weekly. One daily serving of unprocessed meat or poultry and whole grains, respectively, can be included as part of this heart-healthy dietary pattern according to the findings.

    Popular fad diets often used for weight loss such as the ketogenic diet and the paleo diet restrict one or more of these key food groups. It’s possible that weight loss diets that restrict major nutrient-dense food groups like legumes or fruit may be a disadvantage or even harmful for cardiovascular health.

    When looking at studies providing evidence for dietary guidelines, it’s necessary to determine if there is any potential bias. It is important to note that there was no specific funding for this data analysis and the studies that contributed to these findings were funded separately and conducted over a 25-year period. While the journal article lists numerous funding sources for the overall body of research, the studies do not appear to be funded by the food industry.

    In efforts to decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, here are eight ways to easily incorporate the six key food groups into your eating plan:

    Include plant-based meals that highlight beans and legumes such as minestrone soup, lentil soup, bean chili, black bean tacos and bean salads.

    Enjoy fish two to three times per week as a nutrient-dense protein source.

    Add a serving of fruit and vegetables to each meal and include them as snacks in between meals.

    Stock a bowl with pieces of fresh fruit easily accessible on the counter. Use frozen fruit and berries in smoothies.

    Enjoy a serving of nuts, about a handful of nuts, like almonds, cashews or pistachios, for example, every day. Add nuts to oatmeal or yogurt or enjoy them plain as a snack.

    Incorporate dairy foods like whole milk yogurt and cottage cheese with breakfast or as a satisfying snack a couple of times a day.

    Choose fresh meat or poultry instead of processed meats such as deli meat, hot dogs and sausage.

    Consume whole grains in moderation and limit consumption of ultra-processed grain products.

    LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected].

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    ​ Orange County Register