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Diet Is The Main Cause Of Heart Disease Worldwide, Study Suggests

Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
By Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Photo by Tatjana Zlatkovic
October 16, 2020

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 17.9 million people around the world have cardiovascular disease. Many lifestyle factors can increase or lower people's risks of developing these diseases, and a new study pinpointed what it's calling the greatest factor: an unhealthy diet.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, compared 11 heart risk factors and found that unhealthy diets played the most significant role in developing or dying from ischemic heart disease, a combination of heart attacks and angina (chest pain). 

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That's about two-thirds or 6 million deaths that could have been avoided with proper nutrition and healthier diets, study author Xinyao Liu, M.D., Ph.D., said in a news release. 

What type of diet should we be eating?

Along with reducing the intake of processed foods, sugary beverages, trans and saturated fats, and added salt and sugar, Liu recommends increasing intake of whole foods, like fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains (aka the Pesco-Mediterranean diet).

"Ideally, we should eat 200 to 300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from seafood each day. On top of that, every day we should aim for 200 to 300 grams of fruit, 290 to 430 grams of vegetables, 16 to 25 grams of nuts, and 100 to 150 grams of whole grains," she says.

What about the other risk factors?

The other measured risk factors, aside from diet, included: 

  1. high blood pressure
  2. high serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  3. high plasma glucose
  4. tobacco use
  5. high body mass index (BMI)
  6. air pollution
  7. low physical activity
  8. impaired kidney function
  9. lead exposure
  10. alcohol use
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To determine the impacts of each, researchers estimated the proportion of deaths that could have been prevented by eliminating any of the given risks. After unhealthy diets, the next largest contributor to heart attacks and chest pain were high blood pressure and high serum cholesterol, says Liu. "This was consistent in both developed and developing countries," she adds. 

To break it down, adopting healthy diets lowered ischemic heart disease deaths by more than 69%; maintaining a healthy systolic blood pressure lowered deaths by more than 54%; and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels lowered the deaths by nearly 42%. 

Bottom line.

There are lifestyle factors (i.e., diet) that can protect against and prevent ischemic heart disease. With this knowledge, Liu urges individuals to take the initiative in adopting healthier habits—these exercises can't hurt, either.

The information in this article is based on the findings of one study and is not intended to replace medical advice. While the results seem promising, more research is needed to validate the findings of this study.
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Abby Moore
Abby Moore
Editorial Operations Manager

Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.