The heart is one of the most complex and vital organs in the human body, so it’s important to do everything you can to keep it healthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the U.S. suffers a heart attack every 40 seconds. To prevent such an occurrence, doctors typically recommend specific diet and exercise regimens that help maintain cardiovascular health, often focusing on what to avoid at mealtime. But according to a new study, eating one food regularly could actually slash your risk of a heart attack. Read on to see what you may want to start working into your diet.
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The latest heart health discovery comes from a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on March 30, which aimed to better understand the long-term impact avocados could have on cardiovascular disease. Researchers used data from 68,786 women aged 30 to 55 and 41,701 men aged 40 to 75 collected through dietary questionnaires every four years. At the beginning of the 30-year research period, all participants involved had reported no history of heart attack or stroke.
There were 9,185 coronary heart disease events and 5,290 strokes reported among participants throughout the study. After comparing health records and dietary data, results showed that participants who ate two servings of avocado per week—or the equivalent of one whole avocado—saw a 16 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent reduced risk of having a heart attack compared to participants who didn’t eat avocados.
Besides noting the impact of including avocados in participants’ diets, the researchers also used statistical modeling to find that replacing half a serving each day of butter, margarine, eggs, cheese, yogurt, or processed meats such as bacon also reduced the risk of heart disease by 16 to 22 percent. However, the same health benefits were not seen when avocado was swapped out for the equivalent serving size of nuts, olive oil, or other plant-based oils.
“Although no one food is the solution to routinely eating a healthy diet, this study is evidence that avocados have possible health benefits,” Cheryl Anderson, PhD, chair of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Council on Epidemiology and Prevention who was not involved in the study, said in a statement. “This is promising because it is a food item that is popular, accessible, desirable, and easy to include in meals eaten by many Americans at home and in restaurants.”
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Experts conclude that the findings support mounting evidence that certain eating styles can significantly impact heart health. “We desperately need strategies to improve intake of AHA-recommended healthy diets—such as the Mediterranean diet—that are rich in vegetables and fruits,” Anderson told CNN.
According to Lorena Pacheco, PhD, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow in the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, it can be particularly easy to “replace certain spreads and saturated fat-containing foods, such as cheese and processed meats, with avocado.” But even though just one-quarter of an avocado a day can reduce your risk of heart disease, she warns to be careful of negating the fruit’s healthy offerings.
“I have seen some avocado toast recipes made with mayonnaise which defeats the purpose,” Pacheco told USA Today. “We should be using avocado in lieu of mayonnaise.”
Other research has shown that avocados aren’t alone in providing heart health benefits. A 2019 Italian study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology analyzed the impact of chili peppers on the risk of death from a heart attack. The researchers used data from more than 22,800 participants enrolled in the Moli-sani study, a population cohort that recruited men and women at random between March 2005 and April 2015. For the 2019 study, the team followed participants’ health status for about eight years and compared that data with their eating habits. The Italian researchers found that those who regularly consumed chili peppers at least four times a week or more had a 40 percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack than those who rarely ate them.
But the researchers didn’t stop at looking for health benefits in relation to heart attacks. Results also found that people who ate chili peppers four times a week or more were also 60 percent less likely to die from cerebrovascular disease such as stroke compared to those who did not regularly eat these peppers.
Even though researchers did not examine precisely why chili peppers could potentially have a positive impact on heart health, certain experts believe that capsaicin, the active ingredient that gives chilis their fiery heat, might be the reason. “Some data show how capsaicinoids [a class of compounds that includes capsaicin] may have an impact on platelet function [to help your body form clots to stop bleeding], the cells lining the blood vessels, and reduction in insulin resistance,” Jeffrey Teuteberg, MD, a cardiologist at Stanford Health Care, who was not involved in the study, told Everyday Health.
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