Starchy Snacks, ‘Western-Style’ Lunches May Harm Heart Health

June 28, 2021 — New research shows that what you eat and when you eat it may affect heart health.

Researchers found that eating starchy snacks high in white potato or other starches after any meal may increase your risk of getting heart disease. Eating a “Western-style” lunch high in refined grains, cheese, and processed meat was also linked to heart disease.

Conversely, eating fruits with lunch, vegetables at dinner, and a dairy snack in the evening may lower your risk of heart disease.

“People are increasingly concerned about what they eat as well as when they eat. Our results revealed that the amount and the intake time of various types of foods are equally critical for maintaining optimal health,” lead researcher Ying Li, PhD, with Harbin Medical University School of Public Health in China, said in a statement

“A fruit snack after breakfast, fruit-lunch, vegetable-dinner and dairy snack after dinner” appear best for heart health, the researchers concluded in their report in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Their findings are based on diet information from roughly 21,500 U.S. adults who took part in the federal National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2014. The people in the survey were asked to recall their meal and snack patterns throughout one whole day.

Among the key findings:

  • Eating a Western lunch (typically containing refined grains, cheese, and cured meat) was associated with a 44% increased risk of dying from heart and vascular disease.
  • Eating a fruit-based lunch was associated with a 34% reduced risk of dying from heart and vascular disease.
  • Eating a vegetable-based dinner was associated with a 23% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 31% lower risk of dying from any cause.
  • Eating a snack high in starch after any meal was associated with a 50% to 52% increased risk of dying from any cause and a 44% to 57% increased risk of dying from heart disease.

The content, amount, and the time you eat are “equally critical” for maintaining health. The right eating time is “essential” for regulating the body’s metabolism and preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease, the researchers wrote.

“Future nutrition guidelines and interventional strategies could integrate optimal consumption times for foods across the day,” Li said.

A key limit of the study is that participants self-reported information on their diet, which may lead to recall bias.

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Journal of the American Heart Association: “Association of Meal and Snack Patterns With Mortality of All‐Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003 to 2014.”

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