Fad Diets for Heart Health Not Backed by Data

By Lisa Rapaport

March 31, 2017

(Reuters Health) - Patients may be tempted by fad diets, but when it comes to heart health, old standbys like fruits, vegetables and olive oil are still the best approach, a new meta-analysis confirms.

Researchers who pooled data from more than a dozen previously published nutrition studies found that the best regimen for heart health includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

“There is a great amount of misinformation about nutrition fads, including antioxidant pills, juicing and gluten-free diets,” said lead study author Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness in the division of cardiology at National Jewish Health in Denver.

“However, there are number of dietary patterns that have clearly been demonstrated to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease,” Freeman said in a statement. “There is growing consensus that a predominantly plant-based diet that emphasizes green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit is where the best improvements are seen in heart health.”

Nuts in moderation, extra-virgin olive oil and lean meats can also be part of a heart healthy diet, Freeman and colleagues reported February 27 online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Although U.S. dietary guidelines released last year removed previous recommendations to limit cholesterol, the authors of the current research review still advise skipping or limiting eggs and other oils like coconut and palm oil.

Coconut oil and palm oil may be trendy, but there isn’t much data to show they’re healthy for routine use, the study concludes. Olive oil does have proven benefits, but should be consumed in moderation because it’s high in calories.

When it comes to antioxidants, there’s no evidence that supplements help the heart and some evidence that they may have harmful health effects. But the science does support eating whole fruits and vegetables to get these nutrients.

Juicing, too, may not be as good for the heart as whole fruits and vegetables if people end up drinking too many calories, the researchers note. Juices without added sugar may, however, make sense for people who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

“The problem with juicing is that many individuals who drink these tend to consume more calories from added sugars (fruit, yogurt, milk) than they realize,” Dr. Daniel Rader of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia said by email. He wasn’t involved in the study.

Gluten-free diets that avoid ingredients like wheat, barley and rye are necessary for people with celiac disease or gluten allergies, but don’t have proven benefits for anyone else, the study concludes.

It’s possible that fad diets avoiding gluten without a medical reason to do this might appear to be successful because people who try eating this way to improve their health also do other things that are healthy like getting plenty of exercise and sleep and avoiding smoking and junk food, said Alvaro Hernaez, a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona.

“They feel better because of the general improvement in their lifestyle habits,” Hernaez, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Fads diets, especially those that load up on meat or restrict too much food, should be avoided, said Samantha Heller, a nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center who wasn’t involved in the study.

“We would all benefit from eating fewer foods that come from animals such as ham, beef, cheese, butter and pork, and eating a lot more plant foods,” Heller said by email.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2mBgBKW

J Am Coll Cardiol 2017.