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artichoke hearts and chickpeasIf you’re a parent, you know how positive reinforcement works. You praise your kid’s successes and really don’t dwell on the failures. Make this your parenting style, and you can pretty much guarantee your child will have more successes than failures.

Turns out, when it comes to eating a healthy diet, you should follow that same basic model. For according to a new study in the European Heart Journal,

Greater consumption of healthy foods may be more important for secondary prevention of coronary artery disease than than avoidance of ‘unhealthy’ processed foods.

The study involved 15,482 participants – average age, 67 – from 39 countries. All had stable coronary artery disease and had participated in a trial for a new drug to treat atherosclerosis.

Each also completed a lifestyle questionnaire, which included questions about dietary habits.
Depending on their response, they were given a Mediterranean diet score (MDS). The more healthy foods they ate, the higher the score. In contrast, participants were given a Western diet score (WDS) if – you guessed it – they ate unhealthy foods.

After a median 3.7 years, those with the highest MDS had, collectively, the fewest total major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE). Just 7.3% of this group experienced a MACE compared with 10.8% of those with the lowest MDS.

Interestingly, the researchers found no association between WDS and MACE. It was the greater consumption of healthy foods that made the difference – more vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils; less sugar, fewer refined carbs.

Typically, you hear people say eat fewer unhealthy foods, more healthful ones. Statistically, what appears most beneficial is that one follows a healthier eating pattern overall. This may be even more important than avoiding all unhealthy foods.

So back to positive reinforcement.

Clearly, these new research findings don’t mean you can go hog wild. But, like your kid, if you focus on the abundance of what you can have, you’ll reinforce abundance.

And then, it’s not that you can’t have that processed whatchamacallit; it’s just that, well, you don’t eat that anymore.

Image by Kelly Sue DeConnick

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