Feature: What foods really help stave of heart disease?

27 January 2012

The list of things that medical patients can and cannot eat at the fear of affecting their heart health is ever changing and there is not a week that goes by without a report or study suggesting that a diet high in a one specific food could lead to heart problems.

However, the idea that all fried foods are detrimental to the performance of the heart seems to be a myth. A new study has suggested that foods in batter and fried in oil are not as bad as initially suspected - but only if they are cooked in olive or sunflower oil.

Researchers at the Autonomous University of Madrid surveyed 40,757 adults about their diet and found that there was no heightened risk of heart disease or premature death due to cardiac failure in foods that had been cooked in these oils.

Published online in the British Medical Journal, the study also highlighted the fact that fats like lard and other animal-based cooking oils are still significantly associated with heart failure as well as high cholesterol and other health problems, which could pose as risk factors for cardiac problems.

"Taken together, the myth that frying food is generally bad for the heart is not supported by available evidence. However, this does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences," Professor Michael Leitzmann from the University of Regensburg in Germany, del comma said in an accompanying editorial piece.

He explained that the study suggested the specific way of cooking the foods is irrelevant as long as other areas of a diet are equally healthy and balanced.

Traditionally, Mediterranean diets have boasted plenty of low-fat foods that are high in fibre, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.

Victoria Taylor, a senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, commented: "Regardless of the cooking methods used, consuming foods with high fat content means a high calorie intake. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease."

She also mentioned that British people must remember that this study was based on the Spanish diet, which differs largely from food generally consumed in the UK.

While oil is was the focus of the Autonomous University of Madrid's study, researchers at the University of Western Australia and Unilever have revealed that three cups of tea a day could help to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure - a well-known risk factor associated with heart problems.

The scientists led by Professor Jonathan Hodgson found that black tea lowered blood pressure more effectively in subjects who drank three cups a day compared to those who were given a placebo.

"There is already mounting evidence that tea is good for your heart health, but this is an important discovery because it demonstrates a link between tea and a major risk factor for heart disease," Prof Hodgson concluded.

With regard to heart health, scientists from the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco recently found that a genetic switch in an unborn baby could be the key to whether they will develop heart disease in later life.

Commenting on the study, a representative from the British Heart Foundation said that such a discovery was important as it could lead the way for treatments and tests to ward off genetic heart disease risks.

Professor Peter Weissberg said that the "crucial step in normal heart development is the switching off of genes" that could cause poor growth of the muscle.

Statistics from the British Heart Foundation showed that coronary heart disease caused 71,797 deaths in 2008 - the most recent year for comprehensive figures - and a further 52,021 fatalities as a result of circulatory disease.

Furthermore, more than 25 per cent of all deaths in men in 2008 were due to heart problems such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

Hodgson, Jonathan, et al., "Effects of Black Tea on Blood Pressure: A Randomized Controlled Trial",Archives Internal Medicine, January 2012.

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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