Unconventional diets, foods, and nutrients have become popular in their promises to prevent heart attack and stroke. What does the evidence say?

  • Coconut oil. A recent systematic review found that coconut oil, when compared to polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils, raised LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) without any known offsetting favorable effects for the heart. The American Heart Association advises against its use. Instead, use liquid oils, particularly extra virgin olive oil, which reduces LDL cholesterol and, as part of a Mediterranean-style diet, has been proven to lower the rate of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes by some 30 percent.
  • Animal protein foods. The quality of your protein intake may turn out to be as important as your fats. A long-term study of more than 131,000 people found that animal protein—popularized by Paleo and other high-protein diets—is positively linked with a higher risk of early death from cardiovascular causes. Conversely, plant protein—think legumes, nuts, and whole grains—is protective, especially among people who already have one or more risk factors.
  • Antioxidant supplements. While some initial observational studies showed benefits for the heart, multiple recent clinical trials have reported either neutral or negative results, suggesting potential harm. Rather than getting your antioxidants from pills, consume whole foods, especially brightly colored fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Eggs. A meta-analysis of existing clinical trials supports the conclusion that dietary cholesterol, of which eggs are a primary source, can raise your blood cholesterol. Eggs also contain choline, which is a precursor for a substance called TMAO (if you have certain bacteria in your gut). This is a newly discovered risk factor that rapidly promotes hardening of the arteries! Therefore, you should limit or avoid the use of eggs, especially if you already have heart risk factors or diabetes.
  • Juicing. The process of juicing concentrates calories and often removes natural dietary fiber. Few studies have compared the clinical benefits of juiced versus raw or cooked food forms. Until comparative data becomes available, reserve juicing for where fruit and vegetable intake is inadequate. Focus on whole foods that are known to protect your heart, especially dark leafy greens, berries, and brightly colored vegetables.

Food Matters

by Sue Radd
  
From the November 2017 Signs