My neighbor suffered a heart attack about a month ago that put him in the hospital. He ended up having triple bypass surgery. In visiting with him when he got home, I found that he and his wife are already rethinking the food choices they’re making. And there’s a good basis in research for them to do so! A new study out of Harvard University’s School of Public Health find that changing to a healthier diet can help a person who has suffered a heart attack to live longer.
The study’s participants included 2,258 women from the Nurses’ Health Study as well as 1,840 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. All of these participants did not have a history of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease or cancer when their respective study started. However, they all suffered a heart attack during the longitudinal studies.
During the studies, participants answered a food frequency questionnaire both prior to and after having a heart attack. The researchers measured the quality of the participants’ diets using the Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010 (AHEI2010). This list consists of foods and nutrients that are linked to the risk of chronic disease as reported in scientific research.
During the study, 682 women and 451 men died. Of those, 558 were associated with cardiovascular disease.
Researchers found that the women who had survived a heart attack went on to live another 8.7 years while men survived for another 9 years. Their analysis also determined that participants who had suffered a heart attack who increased their score on the AHEI2010 during the course of the study was associated with a 30-percent lower risk of dying from all causes as well as a 40-percent lower risk of dying from a heart attack. Furthermore, among the 20 percent of study participants who made the greatest improvement in their diet after their heart attack, 14 died. In comparison, among the 20 percent who made the least improvement in the quality of their diet, 247 died. In analyzing the data, the researchers took into account the participants’ medication use, medical history and lifestyle risk factors.
So what are the foods that comprise the AHEI2010? The components include:
- Total fruit, including 100 percent fruit juice– To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat at least 0.8 cups per 1,000 calories.
- Whole fruit, including all forms except fruit juice – To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat at least 0.4 cup per 1,000 calories.
- Total vegetables – To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat at least 1.1 cups per 1,000 calories.
- Greens and beans – To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat at least 0.2 cups per 1,000 calories.
- Whole grains – To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat at least 1.5 ounces per 1,000 calories.
- Dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soy beverages – To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat at least 1.3 cups per 1,000 calories.
- Seafood and plant protein, including seafood, nuts, seeds, soy products, beans and peas – To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat at least 0.8 ounces per 1,000 calories.
- Fatty acids – To receive the maximum score, a person needs to eat a ratio of 2.5 more in polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids as compared to saturated fatty acids.
Certain foods and nutrients also are to be avoided. These include:
- Refined grains – To get a higher score, a person needs to eat no more than 1.8 ounce per 1,000 calories. A person will get a score zero if they eat at least 4.3 ounces per 1,000 calories of refined grains.
- Sodium – To get a higher score, a person needs to eat no more than 1.1 gram per 1,000 calories. A person will get a score of zero if they eat at least 2.0 grams per 1,000 calories of sodium.
- Empty calories – To get a higher score, a person needs to eat no more than 19 percent of their diet from these foods. A person will get a score of zero if 50 percent of their diet is made up of of empty calories.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. (2013). Healthy Eating Index 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Li, S. (2013). Better diet quality and decreased mortality among myocardial infarction survivors. JAMA Internal Medicine.
Seaman, A. M. (2013). Better diet tied to fewer deaths after heart attack. MedlinePlus.
Published On: September 10, 2013