When it comes to our eating habits, it doesn’t get much grimmer than the Western diet. High in fat, red and processed meats, salt, and sugar and low in healthful plant foods, it’s the predominant eating pattern in the U.S.—and increasingly in other parts of the world—and solidly linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic conditions.
But recently Spanish researchers reporting in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology identified an eating pattern that might even be worse for your health. The social-business diet, as they dubbed it, is one marked by eating on the run, frequent restaurant meals, and high alcohol and sweetened beverage consumption.
The researchers pitted this eating style against the Western diet, and the much healthier Mediterranean diet—one rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy oils—by analyzing the eating habits of some 4000 people who had no outward symptoms of heart disease. They then conducted imaging tests on their heart and blood vessels and correlated the results.
The findings: The social-business eaters had a significantly worse cardiovascular risk profile, with evidence of early atherosclerosis, the build-up of harmful plaque in the arteries. This association held true even after accounting for participants’ ages, exercise habits, history of smoking, and other factors that might affect their heart risks.
Eating-on-the-go has distinct disadvantages for sound nutrition. Data from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published in the journal, Public Health Nutrition, shows that people who rarely cook meals at home tend to eat less healthy overall and consume more calories than those who cook more. Small wonder: Restaurant meals often feature supersized portions, unhealthy fats, excess salt, and fewer plant foods. And they’re usually washed down with alcoholic beverages or sweet drinks. That’s a recipe for chronic health woes.
Yet there are some simple strategies that can help people who eat out frequently to clean up their plates—and their arteries:
- Skip the entrée section on the menu and choose sides or appetizers, for instance, a salad and a crab cake appetizer.
- Swap rice or French fries for extra veggies or a side salad.
- Instead of a drinking before, during, and after a meal, have one a glass of wine or beer with your meal.
- Before going to a restaurant, check its website and make a healthy choice before you are hungry and rushed to make a decision.
- To watch calorie counts, frequent restaurants that voluntarily list calorie counts on their menus. According to new Johns Hopkins research, those that do average nearly 140 fewer calories per item than those that do not post the information.
Because the dangers of the social-business diet can take a while to catch up with patients, it may make sense to get a more complete picture of their heart attack risks. Cleveland HeartLabs’ ADMA testing uncovers blood vessel damage before it becomes symptomatic and when reversing it is less problematic.
No matter what your lifestyle and work demands, it’s possible to follow a heart-friendly diet. A little effort and insight go a long way towards getting and/or keeping you healthy.