Our food system and changing dietary patterns are largely to blame for declining cardiovascular health across the globe, according to a paper recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Written by experts during a three-day World Heart Federation workshop, this paper addresses the link between food supply, dietary patterns and heart health. The key goal was to take a big-picture look at how food supply has impacted cardiovascular health and to offer policy solutions to address these issues.
Although our dietary choices are personal and mainly affect our own health, experts explain that our food choices are influenced by factors outside of our control. In recent decades, less processed foods like grains and legumes have declined in the United States and abroad. At the same time, processed foods and animal products have grown dramatically. In most high-income countries like the United States, processed foods are now more affordable than more wholesome products. Not only have these changes taken a toll on the environment and climate change, they’ve taken a toll on our health.
As experts state, there are nearly two billion overweight or obese individuals worldwide. Overweight and obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease, and not surprisingly, heart disease accounts for about one-third of all global deaths. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States and also accounts for 80% of deaths in low- and middle-income countries.
So what can be done? Although most research on the issue has been conducted in high-income countries, it’s clear that diet plays a major role in cardiovascular health. Studies suggest that whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish and nuts are key components of a healthy diet. A heart healthy diet should also limit consumption of red meat, added salt and sugars and saturated or “bad” fats. In fact, experts encourage the Mediterranean diet, which is common in areas like Southern Italy, Greece and Spain and has been shown to reduce risk for heart disease.
Changing the world’s dietary patterns will take some effort. Since our dietary choices don’t occur in a bubble, experts encourage policy change to increase production and availability of unprocessed, heart-healthy foods. For example, tax incentives can help change the way food is made and prices of food. After all, wholesome foods need to be both available and affordable for individuals to adopt healthy changes. Through research, education and policy change, experts hope to change dietary patterns for the better and improve heart health across the globe.