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How Do Fad Diets Actually Affect Heart Health?

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New diet trends, ranging from gluten-free items to juicing, are never in short supply in the United States. Now, a nutritional review weighs in on whether which fads were most helpful for heart health.

Probing over 25 peer-reviewed studies, researchers found that current evidence strongly backs the consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes in moderation and even the more controversial intake of lean meats, non-fat dairy, and vegetable oils in limited quantities.

How about the role of fad diets?

"There is a great amount of misinformation about nutrition fads, including antioxidant pills, juicing and gluten-free diets," said lead author Andrew Freeman in a statement, adding that, however, some diet patterns demonstrated a decrease in the risk of chronic conditions, including heart disease.

Freeman explained that humans’ dietary requirements have not really changed through the years, with the diet most cardioprotective being mostly plant-based or predominantly made up of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and limited animal products, if any.

Here are key findings on other dietary topics:

Eggs And Cholesterol

The review concluded that it is “prudent” for patients to significantly limit their consumption of cholesterol through eggs or any high-cholesterol foods.

Vegetable Oils

Findings discouraged the intake of coconut oil and palm oil out of limited date backing routine intake. However, olive oil emerged as most heart-friendly, and it is recommended to be consumed moderately, as it is still high-calorie.

Berries And Antioxidants

Vegetables and fruits remained healthiest and the leading source of antioxidants to combat heart disease. The review saw no compelling proof, though, that high doses of antioxidant supplements benefitted the heart.

Nuts

While contributing to heart health, overconsumption should be avoided because they are high in calories, the review stated.

Juicing

The vegetables and fruits in juices are deemed heart-healthy, but the process was seen to concentrate calories and therefore makes it easy to consume too much. The review urged eating these foods whole instead, and reserving juicing for when daily fruit and vegetable intake is not enough. It also emphasized avoiding added sugar or honey in juicing.

Gluten

Celiac disease patients and gluten-sensitive individuals should continue to avoid gluten in the form of wheat, barley, and rye, but for those without such sensitivities, the health claims of a gluten-free fare are mostly unsubstantiated, warned the researchers.

Only around one out of 141 Americans has celiac disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. In contrast, one out in five actively attempts to avoid gluten in their diets.

The authors also harped on the role of industry funding — and any resulting bias — in the confusion that surrounds nutrition studies. Some studies too tend to be anchored on surveys relying on people’s memories of what they ate, which is not constantly reliable, said Freeman.

For those seeking a heart-healthy diet, Freeman advised limiting animal product intake, particularly if they have risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“For my patients I try to get them to go as low as they’re willing,” he told ABC News.

The findings were discussed in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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