Decades of fat-phobia and misaimed ideas of a "pure" diet may have given coffee and nuts a bad name, with millions being told to reduce or eliminate their consumption of these foods. In recent years, natural foods rich in healthy, anti-inflammatory fats, such as nuts, have shaken off their former reputation, and so has coffee. This is due in part to research showing that these foods can actually protect heart health, contrary to outdated beliefs.
Go Nuts for Heart Health
In a Swedish study published last year, 61,364 adults aged 45-83 were followed for 17 years, or until they died. Nut consumption categories were 1-3 times per month, 1-2 times per week, and 3 or more times each week; they were controlled for with factors such as smoking, exercise, and fruit and vegetable consumption. Compared to never eating nuts, people who ate them at least three times every week had a 12% lower risk of atrial fibrillation. This is a type of incorrect heart rhythm, where the top chambers flutter instead of pumping blood at the right frequency and force. Eating nuts one or two times each week was linked with a 20% lower risk of heart failure, but three or more servings was not associated with any benefit. Researchers didn't seem to know why, but my theory is that it could be from people with more serious illnesses trying to increase their energy intake. Other studies have found that nuts can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular-related causes, improve metabolic health and provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection.
Coffee, in Moderation, May Benefit Heart Health Too
It is commonly believed that coffee is harmful to all people with atrial fibrillation, as too much caffeine can cause palpitations. However, in most people, other studies have found that drinking up to three cups of coffee each day does not have negative effects, and may be mildly protective. It is estimated that 400,000 Australians have atrial fibrillation, so any nutritional advice to prevent the condition or reduce its severity is welcome. If you do have atrial fibrillation, or any heart or other chronic condition, please consult your doctor first if you stopped drinking coffee and this research has you considering restarting.
The longest-running study on cardiovascular health, the Framingham Heart Study, has been tracking the diets and heart health of over 15,000 Americans since the 1940s. When researchers were looking for previously unknown preventive factors against heart disease, one stood out from all the rest they considered: coffee. Up until six cups (small, or eight ounces) daily, each cup was linked with a 5%, 7% and 8% lower risk of coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke, respectively. When they added coffee consumption to their risk assessment tool for heart disease, its accuracy was boosted by 4%. This isn't bad for one factor, especially one with hit-and-miss effects - some methods of coffee consumption also increase sugar intake. Previous studies have found antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of coffee, and even the much-maligned caffeine may help!
Overall, this research adds to the many ways that we can protect our heart health. Personalised advice from a naturopath or other holistic practitioner is best; if you would like an appointment, click here.