A DIET FOR HEART HEALTH
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) has been the number one killer of Americans for quite some time now. This disease is a group of interrelated disease states that include atherosclerosis, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and heart failure. In terms of the pathophysiology of the disease (or what actually happens in the body) this disease occurs when your arteries get filled with plaque and blood cannot flow properly.
There are a number of things that may cause poor heart health including poor nutrition (a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol), lack of physical activity, smoking, obesity, diabetes, alcohol consumption, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and family history just to name a few.
Over time researchers have started to discover ways to both minimize risk of cardiovascular disease along with reducing symptoms or severity of the disease. This includes staying regularly active, not smoking or drinking (in excess), and following a heart healthy diet.
Now what exactly is a heart healthy diet?
The first diet used to help prevent/ address CVD is called the DASH Diet. This stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet is specifically meant to be a way of eating to help lower your blood pressure. It includes foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium while limiting foods high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. This sounds like something we should all be doing anyways right? This way of eating has been seen to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Now what foods does this diet include? The Dash Diet is going to be rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with some fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It is limited in high saturated fat foods like fatty meats and full-fat dairy products.
The Mediterranean Diet
This diet is very similar to the DASH Diet and rose to popularity in the 50s when people began to notice that the Mediterranean countries had lower rates of CVD. This way of eating is based off of cultural and traditional cuisines of the coastal countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is high in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices with olive oil being the main source of added fat and the star of the show. The general breakdown of Mediterranean meals is simply based around plant foods with some local & wild fish, occasional dairy, and minimal meat, poultry, and eggs.
Check out the Blue Zones to learn more about how the longest-lived populations avoided chronic disease through what they ate and purposeful lifestyles.
Lastly and relatively new, is the Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet from Dr. Esselstyn of Cleveland Clinic. Again, this is quite similar to the DASH and Mediterranean Diet. This diet was actually found to not only prevent & aid in management but to also reverse some cases of CVD. A WFPB diet strictly consisting of minimally processed plant foods and generally lower in fat (whole grains, legumes, vegetables, greens, fruits, and nuts) was able to (in some cases) reduce the amount of plaque in the arteries! This diet is very low in saturated fat and sodium and high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. While we are still waiting on more research and randomized control trials the impacts thus far of a WFPB diet on health are very positive.
The Overall Heart Healthy Diet
Cardiovascular Disease may be complicated but what to eat should not be. To put it simply, consume a diet based on plants (emphasizing whole grains, legumes, vegetables, greens, fruits, nuts, and seeds), that is low in sodium (less than 2,300mg per day- about a teaspoon), & low in saturated fat (found in animal products and more processed foods). Stay active, and stay on top of your health by visiting your physician regularly for check-ups and to learn about your own risk factors.