Preventing Heart Disease: Food Composition Matters More Than Calories

Preventing heart disease with food composition

As they say, “you are what you eat.” It turns out this saying holds up after an in-depth study that examines food and its impact on preventing heart disease.

The new review deals specifically with how food’s composition relates to obesity and is necessary for preventing heart disease. There are two major problems in the United States.


In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. At the same time, the National Institute of Health says about 1/3 of US adults are considered obese.

So if you’re wondering whether scientists should really be focusing on food, the answer is a resounding yes.

Food compositions preventing heart disease

The review was published in Obesity Reviews in May of this year and goes over a variety of topics. For example, the paper includes discussion on dietary fats and whether to use natural or added sugars.

Here, the authors sought to find out whether the composition of certain foods could affect people’s heart health. Moreover, they looked to see if it can affect them as much as their total caloric consumption.


The reason for this discussion is that many people take the position of calorie-for-calorie. As a result, people think that they can eat whatever they want as long as they monitor their calorie intake.

And there’s a lot of truth to that position.

The study’s authors admit that excessive calories are the main factor causing obesity and heart disease. However, not every calorie provides the same benefit.


As the paper states, “various dietary components . . . may promote obesity and cardiometabolic disease.” However, the important aspect of this finding is that this is “not mediated solely by caloric content.”

In other words, preventing heart disease comes from factors other than a food’s total calories. Otherwise, why wouldn’t more people become obese from eating too many vegetables?

The authors list some possible factors for this conclusion such as a person’s metabolism, gut health, or “[brain responsiveness in] regions associated with reward to food cues.”


The risk for obesity or heart disease can go up when a person doesn’t take these dietary factors into consideration.

In the study, the authors call this risk “cardiometabolic risk.” The term refers to a person’s chance of experiencing a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

What they say about foods with cardiometabolic risk

So what were the results?

Based on the evidence, fermented dairy products like cheese and yogurt had a positive effect on cardiometabolic risk. For example, cheese lowered LDL cholesterol, while more fattening forms of dairy, like butter, did not.

When discussing dietary fats, the authors upheld older studies that recommended replacing saturated fats with unsaturated ones.

These studies showed how this simple switch could lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although dated, the authors pointed out that the American Heart Association still uses information based on these studies.

From their discussions, the authors came to one solid conclusion. When it comes to dietary fats, sugars, and alternative sweeteners, “food-specific saturated fatty acids and sugar-sweetened beverages promote cardiometabolic diseases.” Again, this increased risk is based on “mechanisms that are [added] to their contribution of calories to positive energy balance.”

In everyday language, that means what you eat matters just as much as how much you eat. The two go hand in hand.

As a result, dieters and people concerned about health should keep the nutritional quality of food in mind as they prepare meals.