This time of year can be a healthy-diet disaster, starting when that first piece of Halloween candy shows up at the drugstore. Next thing you know, you’re right into the second piece of pumpkin pie, and then contemplating a refill of eggnog with a side plate of sugar cookies. Maybe it’s not so surprising that the most dangerous month for heart attacks is January?
Though we tend to think of our health through a long-view lens, research shows that you need to play the short game, too. In fact, as a new study published in Nutrients suggests, some of your cardiovascular disease risk factors are more like, “What have you done for me lately?”
According to the new study, the risk factors for cardiovascular disease draft off of our eating habits like riders in a professional team trial. If we veer off into the weeds, they follow. Conversely, if we keep our food choices humming along in a good direction, our blood pressure and cholesterol follow closely behind.
To illustrate this phenomenon, researchers from Purdue University looked to previous university research where study participants had adopted either a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)-style or a Mediterranean-style eating pattern, both of which are rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and are known to be good for your cardiovascular and metabolic health.
The volunteers had their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, and went through a cycle of healthy and less-than-healthy eating habits, having their risk factors re-checked at each step along the way. First, they followed one of those heart-healthy diets for five to six weeks. Then, they went back to their old eating habits for a month. Finally, they adopted one of the healthy diets again for another five to six weeks before getting a final assessment.
Graphs of the participants’ blood pressure and total cholesterol levels during the study period looked like a pump track—up and down and up and down—right in line with their healthy (or not) eating habits at the time, showing that it takes your body very little time to respond to the food you’re putting in.
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The take-home message: When you blow your healthy eating habits, do what you do when you hit the deck—get up, dust off, and put yourself back on course.
“Even in the short term, your food choices influence whether you’re going to have a successful or unsuccessful visit with your doctor,” study author Wayne Campbell, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University said in a press release.
“These findings should encourage people to try again if they fail at their first attempt to adopt a healthy eating pattern,” Campbell said in the release. “It seems that your body isn’t going to become resistant to the health-promoting effects of this diet pattern just because you tried it and weren’t successful the first time. The best option is to keep the healthy pattern going, but if you slip up, try again.”
This content was originally published here.