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Dr Russ Blog - A worldwide view of a heart healthy diet
A worldwide view of a heart healthy diet
Created on 10/22/2008

T grew up in South America and now lives in the U.S. She sent in a very interesting question - "America is my home, but I still follow the traditional diet of my family. Am I at lower risk for a heart attack because of this?"

T, I don't know the specifics of your diet or your medical background, and so can't speak to your unique risk for heart disease (that's the kind of discussion best held with your primary care doctor). However, the timing of your question is great, and I can offer a general answer based on the results of a newly published study.

It's well-known that dietary factors play a role in our risk for a heart attack. Unfortunately, little if any of the research in this area has examined people who are not of European descent, and food traditions vary widely across the globe. In light of this fact, the authors of the INTERHEART study looked at people from 52 countries who had experienced a heart attack and reviewed their dietary habits. They classified dietary patterns into one of three groups: Oriental (high in tofu and soy, and like sauces), Western (high in salty snacks, red meat, fried foods and eggs), and Prudent (high in vegetables and fruit). The findings confirmed what experts have long thought - regardless of where you live, the widely promoted general heart healthy dietary guidelines hold true: eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, and limit intake of meat, salty snacks and fried foods.

Specifically, study results show that those who followed the Prudent diet had a significantly decreased risk of heart attack (diet includes high intakes of raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, and leafy greens). People who followed a more Western-style diet had a mild increase in heart attack risk, most notable for those ate a lot of fried foods and salty snacks (it's been well-established that a high intake of salt increases the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk for heart attack). Neither risk nor benefit was noted for people in the Oriental diet group specifically as relates to the risk of heart attack.

The researchers estimate that unhealthy dietary habits increase the risk of heart attack around the world on the order of about 30%.

It's important to keep in mind that previous studies have shown that a Prudent-type diet also protects against cancer, diabetes and early death from medical causes.

I can't address your specific risk for heart disease, T. I can, however, say that the rich food traditions of your heritage likely feed not only your heart, but also your soul. Enjoy the traditional meals of your cultural background, but do limit salty and fried foods, and keep plenty of fruit and vegetables on the dinner table.

I hope this helps, T! Be well.
Dr. Russ

** Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. **

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