Hold the salt. And cook more at home.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidance for restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the amount of sodium in their food to 3,000mg per day — still higher than the recommended daily allowance — over a 2.5-year period.
“More than 70% of total sodium intake is from sodium added during food manufacturing and commercial-food preparation,” the federal agency said. Americans consume around 3,400mg of sodium per day, but the Centers for Disease Control recommends people consume less than 2,300mg each day.
This is of particular concern given that blood pressure is one of the best predictors of cardiovascular health, and cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of people in the U.S. So what can you do? Choose your food — and salt intake — wisely.
The 2021 US News and World Report annual ranking from 1 to 35 of the world’s best (and, yes, worst) diets for 2020. A team of 24 panelists of “nationally recognized” professionals in diet, nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes and heart disease named one diet No. 1 for the fourth year in a row.
“COVID has been our overriding health concern for this past year and potentially distracted us from others, but the reality is, diet is more important than ever,” David Katz, a U.S.-based physician, said when the list was revealed this year. “Diet not only influences everything about our health over a lifetime, but it acutely affects the function of our immune system.”
The Mediterranean diet
So what was No. 1 on the list? The Mediterranean diet. It’s based on seven criteria: short-term weight loss, long-term weight loss, effectiveness for cardiovascular disease prevention, effectiveness for preventing diabetes, ease of compliance, nutritional completeness and health risks.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on olive oil rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein like fish and chicken, with the occasional piece of red meat.
This diet also emphasizes beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil and flavorful herbs and spices, as well as cheese and yogurt in moderation and a glass of red wine in moderation.
The Dash diet
No. 2 on the US News and World Report list? The Dash diet. The DASH diet, short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, recommends fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, poultry, fish and low-fat dairy products, while restricting salt, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Last June, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center examined three cardiovascular indicators to determine if — and how — diet directly impacts cardiac health. They analyzed blood samples from clinical-trial participants who stuck to strict dietary regimens and found that the DASH diet, already shown to lower blood pressure, also reduces inflammation.
The conclusion, published in the latest edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also found that the DASH diet — whether or not it’s adhered to in conjunction with a low-sodium diet — reduces heart injury and strain. The researchers analyzed stored specimens from 412 participants conducted at four medical centers in the U.S. between 1997 and 1999.
The Flexitarian diet
In joint second place alongside the Dash diet is the Flexitarian diet. “A flexitarian or semi-vegetarian diet (SVD) is one that is primarily vegetarian with the occasional inclusion of meat or fish,” according to a review of 25 studies in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
“There was emerging evidence suggestive of benefits for body weight, improved markers of metabolic health, blood pressure, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes,” the researchers found.
“SVD may also have a role to play in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. Given that there is a higher tendency for females to be flexitarian yet males are more likely to over-consume meat, there is a clear need to communicate the potential health benefits of these diets to males,” they added.
Hold the beef
Cutting meat out of your diet, particularly for your last meal of the day, can also have long-term benefits to your health, according to a study of nearly 28,000 people’s dinner habits between 2006 and 2013 published last May in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
It may not just be what you eat that keeps you healthy, but when you eat it. The substitution of low-quality carbohydrates and animal protein at dinner with high-quality carbs and plant protein cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by around 10%, researchers from Harbin Medical University in China concluded.
“This study indicated that overconsumption of low-quality carbohydrates and animal protein at dinner rather than breakfast was significantly associated with higher cardiovascular disease risk and unsaturated fatty acid consumption at dinner related to lower CVD risk among U.S. adults,” the report said.