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Can eating more processed food, despite exercise, increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases?

We would like to believe that exercising regularly is our license to indulge in calorie-laden foods, but a recently-released study has burst this bubble by noting that consuming unhealthy food can increase fatal risks like cardiovascular disease risk despite exercise. The study, published in BMJ Sports Medicine, looked at records of 346,627 UK residents from the UK Biobank data that spanned from April 2007 to December 2020. Using the information, the researchers first determined who was eating a high-quality diet and who was not.

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According to it, a high-quality diet was determined to be one that included at least 4½ cups of fruit or vegetables per day and at least two servings of fish per week. The study noted that it also included no more than two servings of processed meat per week and less than five servings of red meat in that same timeframe. On the other hand, a low-quality diet did not stick to these parameters and instead contained more red meat and processed foods, and not enough fruits, vegetables, or fish.

Based on the data, researchers said that a healthy diet coupled with regular exercising lowered the risk of fatal diseases by 17 per cent while a low-quality diet increased the risk of death. Additionally, those who had a low-quality diet also had a 19 per cent greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 27 per cent higher risk of PDAR (adiposity-related) cancers. The study, once again, highlighted that an inherently unhealthy diet cannot be fixed with exercise alone.

Here’s what to know.

Saturated and trans fats tend to increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, in the blood and tend to reduce high-density lipoprotein HDL (good) cholesterol levels, said Minal Shah, RD, senior nutrition therapist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund.

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What comprises a healthy diet?

Your caloric requirement changes as per your age, height, gender, level of physical activity, and stages of life (particularly in females), informed Dr (Mr) Kiran Rukadikar, bariatric physician and obesity consultant, and founder of DietQueen App.

According to Dr Rukadikar, a typical healthy diet should have following things:

*A wide variety of fruits and vegetables
*Whole grains and mostly plants such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or non-fat dairy; and, if you eat meat and poultry, ensuring it is lean and unprocessed, as well as healthy vegetable oils
*Eat minimally processed foods
*Less of added sugars
*Foods prepared with little or no salt
*Limit or preferably no alcohol intake

Agreed Shah and said, “The evidence favours following healthy diets like Mediterranean or DASH. The best diet for preventing heart disease is one that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, vegetable oils, alcohol in moderation, restricted intake of red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates etc.”

Should you change your exercise regimen?

Increase the amount and intensity of your physical activity to burn more calories according to your fitness guide. However, if you are obese, avoid exercise, just walk first. “Physical activity is the second most modifiable factor. Your diet is what makes the impact at the first place,” Dr Rukadikar said.

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