A one-year follow-up study of patients with heart disease found that few are meeting recommendations for fruit, vegetable and fiber intake, and they were eating a "disturbing" amount of trans fat, Dr. Yunsheng Ma and colleagues from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester found.
They surveyed 555 people about their eating habits one year after they had been diagnosed with heart disease using coronary angiography. All had suffered some type of cardiac event, such as heart attack, abnormal heart rhythm, or chest pain.
To gauge the quality of their diets, the researchers used the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), which measures several aspects of heart-healthy eating such as fruit and vegetable consumption, amount of trans fat consumed, and ratio of white to red meat eaten.
On average, patients scored 30.8 on the AHEI, out of a possible 80. Just 12.4 percent were eating five or more servings of vegetables a day, while 7.8 percent were eating at least four servings of fruit each day. Fewer than 8 percent met recommendations for cereal fiber consumption.
And while public health guidelines recommend getting less than 0.5 percent of total calories from trans fat, people in the study consumed an average of 3.41 percent of their calories in trans fat form.
Just half had exercised for at least 20 minutes at least once in the past three months.
About 80 percent of people don't go to cardiac rehabilitation programs after having a heart attack, the researcher noted, and even if they do such programs often emphasize exercise over nutrition.
"What this paper indicates is that a lot of work needs to be done to basically translate what we know to practice and make sure the patient gets that message," Ma told Reuters Health in an interview.
He and his colleagues are now investigating ways to "deliver a message" about the importance of improving diet for patients with heart disease. Simple messages, like urging people to eat more fiber, may be more effective than complicated guidelines, he added.