Study: Following a variety of healthy eating patterns may help lower your risk of heart disease

Image shows variety of heart-healthy foods including fruits, vegetables, and fish.

Following a variety of healthy eating patterns may help lower your risk of heart disease, researchers are reporting. Their findings lend support to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which focus on healthy eating patterns rather than individual ingredients to better account for diverse cultural and personal food choices.

In the current study, researchers explored the link between healthy diets and long-term risk of heart disease. They focused on four healthy eating patterns: Healthy Eating Index–2015 (HEI-2015); Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score (AMED); Healthful Plant-Based Diet Index (HPDI); and Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI). Each pattern emphasized a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts and lower intakes of red and processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.

The researchers covered 32 years of follow-up data from more than 74,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, 90,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II, and more than 43,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Every two to four years, the researchers asked the participants questions about their dietary habits. 

The researchers found that participants who adhered the most to healthy eating patterns had a 14% to 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who adhered the least. The benefits of these healthy eating patterns were applicable across all racial and ethnic groups studied, they said. Their study, funded in part by NHLBI, appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine.