hangover from the 1990s,” she notes, referring to the period when “low-fat” became the rage.
What should your diet look like?
In its advice, the American Heart Association (AHA) encourages people to eat plenty of whole and “minimally processed” foods, and cut heavily processed foods like chips, crackers and other snack favorites.
That helps limit less-than-healthy fats, as well as sugar and sodium, Lichtenstein shares. Just as important, a diet high in foods like fruits, vegetables, high-fiber grains and fish will supply the nutrients people need to support their cardiovascular health.
As for fat, the AHA recommends focusing on the source: Use liquid vegetable oils, like olive, canola and safflower oils, rather than butter. And go for foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds and avocado.
Meat is not off the table, according to Lichtenstein. But choose lean cuts, avoid processed meats, and replace some meat servings with fatty fish — which is high in the omega-3 fatty acids that are linked to reduced risks of heart disease and stroke.
For the study, Wang’s team used data from two long-running studies of U.S. health care professionals, involving more than 117,000 participants in all. At the outset, in the 1980s, and then every four years, they completed detailed diet questionnaires.
Over 27 years, nearly 6,200 participants had a stroke. That risk dipped as intake of plant-based fats increased. In contrast, the risk rose in tandem with the consumption of fat from meat.
For each daily serving of red meat, the risk of stroke climbed 8%, and for each serving of processed meat, it rose by 12%.
That, Wang says, was after the researchers accounted for factors such as calorie intake, exercise habits, smoking and drinking, and conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
People switching to a more plant-rich diet do need some savvy. If you’re buying packaged meat “alternatives,” for example, check the label for things like sodium and sugar content, Lichtenstein notes.
In general, she concludes, the less processed the food is, the better.
When practicing a healthy diet, remember balance is key. You can still enjoy the foods you love as long as you think about portion control and eat in moderation.