It’s a dangerous time of year for heart health: holiday heart attack season. More people die from heart disease between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7 than any other time of the year. Loading up on egg nog, cheese plates, ham, roast beef, and turkey may play a role.
Swedish researchers found that heart attack risk increased by 37% on Christmas Eve and 15% on Christmas Day, compared to the two weeks before and after Christmas, possibly due in part to overeating. (The average person eats more than 7,000 calories on Christmas day, which is between two and four times what the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend.) People with type 2 diabetes and heart disease were at greater risk. Other research shows that the risk of a heart attack quadruples within hours after eating a large, fatty meal, in part because it increases blood pressure, which may rupture cholesterol plaques causing a clot that can block a blood vessel and trigger a heart attack.
Foods consumed at Christmas that are rich in butter, cream, and other animal products also raise cholesterol levels, according to a study published in the journal Atherosclerosis. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen conducted an observational study of 25,764 individuals from the Copenhagen General Population Study and found that cholesterol levels were 20% higher immediately following Christmas, compared to summer. Nine out of 10 people participating in the study had elevated cholesterol after Christmas. The authors warn that people with high cholesterol should be alert to their cholesterol levels during the Christmas holidays.
Instead of putting your heart health at risk this holiday season, try our healthy 12 Days of Plant-Based Holidays menu. A vegan diet works even better than the American Heart Association-recommended diet for heart disease prevention, according to a study published by the American Heart Association.