It sounds too good to be true, but a variety of tasty treats – including nuts, berries, and even dark chocolate – help protect against cardiovascular disease, according to new research. Here is a look at some of the latest discoveries about which foods are the most beneficial.
Peanuts may help prevent heart disease.
Eating peanuts may protect against fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new prospective study of 71,764 Americans of European and African descent, and 134,265 residents of Shanghai. Participants ate some tree nuts, but mainly ate peanuts. While peanuts are classified as legumes, they contain many of the same nutrients as tree nuts, the researchers reported.
Across ethnic groups, those who ate the most peanuts had a 38 percent lower rate of heart disease, while rates of ischemic stroke were significantly reduced only in those who were Asian. Participants were divided into 5 groups based on the amount of nuts they ate. Compared to those eating the least nuts, those in the top fifth who ate the most nuts in the US group had a 21 percent lower risk of death while those in Asia had a 17 percent lower risk. Participants were tracked for 5 to 12 years, with the findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Earlier studies have found that eating nuts may reduce such CVD threats as inflammation, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Dark chocolate lowers cholesterol and aids weight loss.
In a randomized study of men and women ages 19 to 67, those who followed a low-carbohydrate diet plus a daily 42-gram serving of dark chocolate (81% cocoa) enjoyed 10 percent more weight loss and improvements in their cholesterol and triglyceride levels, compared to participants who ate a low-carb diet without any added chocolate, researchers reported this month in International Archives of Medicine.
A 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal reported that eating dark chocolate daily could reduce cardiovascular events in people with metabolic syndrome, a dangerous cluster of factors that triples risk for heart attacks and type 2 diabetes. The team calculated that this delicious “treatment” could potentially prevent 70 non-fatal and 15 fatal CV events (such as heart attacks and strokes) per 10,000 people treated over 10 years, at a cost of just $42.00 a year.
Blueberries lower blood pressure.
A cup of blueberries a day could be a tasty way for people with mildly elevated blood pressure to delay progression to full-blown hypertension, a major risk factor for both heart disease and stroke, a new study published in Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests.
Postmenopausal women with pre- and stage-1 hypertension were randomly assigned to either receive 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder (equal to one cup of fresh blueberries) or a placebo powder daily. After eight weeks, the blueberry group had an average decrease of 7 mmHg (5.1 percent) in systolic blood pressure and 5 mmHg in diastolic pressure, as well as a 6.5 percent drop in arterial stiffness.
“Our findings suggest that the addition of a single food, blueberries, to the diet may mitigate the negative cardiovascular effects that often occur as a result of menopause,” said lead study author Sarah Johnson, assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University.
Salmon helps fight arterial plaque and inflammation – and may contribute to a longer life.
Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, such as salmon, have such powerful cardiovascular benefits that the American Heart Association advises at least two servings per week, both for healthy people and those at high risk for CVD. Among the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are lower levels of inflammatory markers and triglycerides, reduced risk for arrhythmias that can lead to sudden death, and slower growth of artery-clogging plaque.
In a 2013 study of 2,692 older adults who were initially free of heart disease and stroke, none of whom took fish oil supplements, those with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood (suggesting a diet high in fish) had significantly lower risk for death from CV causes and on average, lived 2.22 years longer than those with the lowest levels. A simple blood test called OmegaCheck™ can measure the balance of fats in a patient’s diet.