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  • A new study has identified two types of diets that are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and death in middle age.
  • Researchers analyzed data from more than 116,000 adults throughout the United Kingdom who were recruited to the UK Biobank from 2006 to 2010.
  • Experts say that excess dietary sugar can increase the risk of diabetes, hardening of the arteries, and other organ damage.

Two common dietary patterns could be associated with an increased risk of both heart disease and death in middle age, suggests new research published today from the University of Oxford.

The first diet was high in chocolate, confectionery (candy and other sweets), butter, and white bread – but low in fresh fruit and vegetables.

The second was higher in sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, chocolate, confectionery, table sugar, and preserves, but low in butter and higher-fat cheeses.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 116,000 adults throughout the United Kingdom recruited to the UK Biobank from 2006 to 2010.

They were between 37 and 73 years old, with an average age of 56, and reported the food they ate during the previous 24 hours. Researchers then identified what nutrients and food groups were eaten by participants.

Incidence of cardiovascular disease and mortality was calculated using hospital admission and death records until 2017 and 2020.

“Cardiovascular disease is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK, and poor diet is a major contributor to this,” corresponding author, nutrition scientist Carmen Piernas, PhD, said in a statement. “The most common dietary guidelines are based on the nutrients found in foods rather than foods themselves, and this can be confusing for the public.”

She emphasized that these findings can help identify specific foods and beverages commonly eaten in Britain that may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

According to the study findings, people whose diet included higher amounts of chocolate, confectionery, butter, and white bread, tended to be younger males, economically disadvantaged, current smokers, more sedentary, have obesity or have hypertension than those eating a diet that didn’t include high amounts of those foods.

In this group, people younger than 60 years old or have overweight/obesity had a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than individuals over 60 years old and maintained a healthy weight.

“So a lot of it goes back to cardiovascular risk factors. When you eat high sugar, low fiber — you tend to have more insulin resistance, your body doesn’t understand how to process the sugars, and then over time, that can lead to hardening of the arteries of the heart, and further on, to having organ damage,” Dr. Vaani Garg, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Morningside in New York, told Healthline.

“So the issue is really if you don’t have a balanced diet, then you’re not really setting yourself up to prevent cardiovascular disease,” she continued.

When researchers looked at those whose diet was high in sugar-sweetened drinks, fruit juice, and preserves, they also found an increased risk for CVD and mortality, even though this group tended to be physically active and less likely to smoke or have obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol, compared to people who didn’t eat this diet.

They also found that females, individuals younger than 60 years old, or who have obesity had an especially high CVD risk if they consumed a diet high in these foods.

“Consuming a diet that is high in sugars results in empty calories,” said Nicole Roach, registered dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Empty calories can result in weight gain, and excess weight is a risk for heart disease.”

She explained that excess sugars could also increase the risk for diabetes, which is known to increase CVD risk.

“Added sugar can come from juices, soft drinks, ice teas, lemonades, and sodas,” said Roach. “Rather than having such beverages, opt for a sugar-free version or water sweetened with fresh fruit.”

If you’re craving something sweet after dinner try, some frozen fruit or opt for Greek yogurt as an alternative, she advised.

Researchers caution that this was an observational study, so it doesn’t allow for conclusions about the relationship between diet, CVD, and mortality.

Also, since information about diet was taken from individual 24-hour assessments and not during a continuous period of time, it might not be a complete picture of the participants’ lifetime diets.

“Our research suggests that eating less chocolate, confectionery, butter, low-fiber bread, sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juice, table sugar and preserves could be associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease or death during middle-age,” said Piernas in a statement.

She added that her findings are consistent with previous research that finds eating foods with less sugar and fewer calories could be associated with reduced CVD. The findings of this study could be used to create food-based dietary advice that could help people eat more healthily and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

New research finds two different diets can significantly increase the risk of heart disease and death in middle age. One is higher in sugar and fat, while the other is high in sugar and low in fiber.

Experts say that excess dietary sugar can increase the risk of diabetes, hardening of the arteries, and other organ damage. They also say that not eating a balanced diet can significantly increase the odds of heart disease later in life.

Researchers emphasized that this is an observational study and can’t prove the two diets caused heart disease and death, but the findings are consistent with previous research.