The common phrase “eat healthier for your heart” is widely known, but what exactly does it entail? The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre researchers have finally provided some specific details on a heart-healthy diet that can raise one’s perplexity. According to their research, which was published in The American Journal of Cardiology, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and a diet high in fruits and vegetables both lower heart disease risk scores by roughly 10% over eight weeks.
Although concentrating on fruits and vegetables can be effective, experts argue that the DASH diet, in particular, has more benefits for women and Black adults when compared to a Western diet. The average Western diet has a high content of fat and sodium and low levels of fruits and vegetables, whereas the DASH diet focuses on lowering blood pressure and includes a plethora of foods that are high in potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
The significance of this research is immense, as cardiovascular disease claims the lives of over 800,000 people each year in the United States alone, making it the leading cause of mortality. Although it is widely acknowledged that a balanced diet can reduce cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, there is limited evidence to support a particular heart-conscious diet for individuals.
“Our study suggests that the benefits associated with these diets may vary by sex and race. While a diet rich in fruits and vegetables produced reductions in risk for women and Black participants, the effect with the DASH diet was twice as large in women and four times as large in Black adults,” says corresponding study author Stephen P. Juraschek, MD, PhD, a clinician-researcher in the Department of Medicine at BIDMC, in a media release.
The study authors evaluated a dataset containing 459 individuals aged 22 to 75 who participated in the original DASH trial between 1994 and 1996 to determine the effect of various diets on a person’s risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Approximately half of the participants in that group were African Americans, and they followed one of three diets for eight weeks. The control diet was mostly similar to a Western diet and had high cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat. The fruit and vegetable diet had more produce, but aside from that, there were no other notable differences between it and the control diet.
Ultimately, the DASH diet increased the intake of fruits and vegetables while decreasing the intake of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sugar. It also increased the intake of whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, and low-fat dairy. According to the initial publication of the original DASH project in 1997, the DASH diet helped reduce HDL cholesterol levels and lower systolic blood pressure in people with hypertension when compared to the control diet.
When the research team compared datasets, both the DASH diet and the fruit and vegetable diet lowered participants’ 10-year risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease by approximately 10%. The DASH diet lowered 10-year risk scores for women by approximately 13%, compared to just over 6% for males, but the benefit was not uniform across all populations.
“The findings could have significant implications for clinical practitioners and policy makers alike,” explains first author Sun Young Jeong, MD, MPH, an internal medicine resident at BIDMC.
In the words of Stephen P. Juraschek, “The message is simple. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy is beneficial for our health, particularly for our heart health.”