It’s heart health day! The number one cause of premature death in the US is cardiovascular disease. It also contributes significantly to chronic illness. High blood pressure, atherosclerosis, congestive heart failure and heart attacks and their aftermath result in people taking multiple medications which can be expensive and cause side effects. Heart disease also limits life expectancy and causes disability.
Prevention is always the best medicine and a general healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and fiber as well as stress reduction, adequate sleep and staying at a BMI of less than 25 goes a long way in preventing disease. Significant weight loss and diet change can also reverse some of the damage.
Recently I have been doing continuing medical education on nutrition and preventive medicine. I came across a webex on foods that prevent cardiovascular disease and took lots of notes so I am going to list out what this particular cardiologist who works at Johns Hopkins recommends and my take on them. I already try to include many many of these into my diet every day but some of this was new information for me.
A heart healthy diet should include:
1. Omega-3 fatty acids-fish oil, fatty fish (the BEST is sardines, salmon is second best)
2. Omega-9 fatty acids or oleic acid (ALA)- found in vegetable oils such as high oleic
sunflower oil, olive oil, avocado oil, canola oil, nut oils.
3. Coconut oil-contains some unique qualities and high amounts of lauric and caproic acid that are bebeficial. As will all oils, use in moderation. MCT oil, which has been made popular by “bulletproof” coffee, is made from coconut oil. If you don’t like the smell or taste of coconut, buy it refined.
4. PURPLE grape juice and RED wine-contains resveratrol but that’s not the whole reason it is good for you. Resveratrol supplements do not have the same benefit. Red grape products have a high ORAC value, which means it is high in antioxidants. 4oz of wine or 8 oz of grape juice. I dont’ drink juice but I do buy it for my kids. If I can’t find a red wine that doesn’t give me migraines I may consider having a glass of purple grape juice now and then…
5. Raisins! They are high in potassium and Americans generally do not get enough. We should get more potassium than sodium in our diets but it’s the opposite. We get a TON of sodium. The DASH diet has been proven to lower blood pressure but that is likely more due to the fact that it is heavy on fruits and vegetables and hence high in potassium which has blood pressure lowering effects. Only 5% of the population is sensitive to sodium so we don’t all need to be on a super low sodium diet but we definitely need more potassium. Word of caution here: too much potassium is also bad and can build up if you take a supplement. Much better to eat foods high in potassium instead unless it is prescribed to you. Then make sure you go for your blood work to monitor it!
6. Garlic-must be CRUSHED! This is the way it releases allicin which is the active heart healthy compound that magically appears when you bash a clove of garlic on it’s head. This could double as stress relief, lol. It lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. 1-3 cloves per day. If you take a supplement and it doesn’t smell, it is worthless. Vampires beware.
7. Chocolate. DARK chocolate. In fact straight up cocoa powder that is not process with alkalai is best. I add a tablespoon or two to my protein shakes and I use cacao powder. Because I am fancy. Any brand is fine though as long as it is not processed with alkalai. It will say so on the label. 2 tbsp is best. Contains flavenols and lowers systolic blood pressure (the top number) and improves blood flow.
8. Stanols. What? It’s from plants and has been shown to lower LDL (the “bad” one) 14%. It’s only found in Benechol though and Promise Take Control. When I heard this I marched out to find some. I found Benechol at Wegmans. They have light and regular versions and as a staunch lover of butter, I really like the taste of this. 1 tbsp per day is sufficient. They use this is Europe a lot more than we do. It apparently didn’t take off here and some products were discontinued in the US due to poor sales.
9. Nuts. All nuts. Daily intake of nuts (and yogurt) is associated with long term weight loss. The fat in nuts is good for satiation which is the sensation of being satisfied. A good snack is 10-15 almonds. Whatever nuts you like, keep it to 1 ounce since they are high in calories too.
10. Soluble fiber-psyllium which is what is in metamucil. Soluble fiber is also found in fruits/vegetables and oat BRAN. Helps lower cholesterol. I buy plain psyllium powder and add it to my shakes. You have to drink it quickly though or it thickens up and you will be chewing your shake instead of sipping it!! Drink extra water too to help it work and not back up your system. Taking fiber and not drinking enough fluids can cause constipation. . Follow the dosage directions on the package but 1 tsp should equal about 5 grams. When I prescribe it I give it twice a day if someone is adamant about not wanting to take a statin.
11. Soy. This one can be controversial depending on who you listen to. It does lower cholesterol. I recommend organic soy in the form of edamame. Even my kids will eat these. You can get them frozen shelled and just heat them up. If you like lima beans, you will like these, maybe even better. Yes, I have liked lima beans since I was a kid. I’m probably the only one. Give soybeans a chance!
There you go. 11 things you can include in your diet to improve your cardiovascular health. I can’t reiterate enough that we need to get more VEGETABLES AND FRUIT in our diets! Vegetables really give you the most bang for your buck, especially leafy greens. Meat should be more of a condiment than the main event at each meal. Healthy fats should be consumed with your greens to improve vitamin absorption (some vitamins are better absorbed when you eat fat) so use your high oleic acids on your greens! And use whole grains and oat bran to improve fiber intake as well.
A study at the University of Toronto showed a significant reduction of cholesterol similar to a statin using what has been called a “portfolio diet.” It contains several of the foods I listed above and includes the intake of 45grams of nuts (about a handful), 50grams of plant protein, 20 grams soluble fiber (oat bran, psyllium, apples), and 2 grams plant sterols (Benechol margarine). Read about it here and see the infographic here. See! Plant foods are sooooo good for us!!
Here’s a tip when shopping: shop the perimeter. The perimeter of the store contains the best foods like produce, lean proteins at the meat and seafood counters, low fat dairy and frozen vegetables. Plot out your list and your path by what you want to be eating BEFORE you get to the store. If you wander up and down the aisles you are more likely to pick up something that looks interesting (the power of marketing!!) but isn’t really food or healthy for you. the longer you stay, the more you spend too (more marketing research!) so save your waist line, your heart and your wallet and shop the perimeter!!
There you have it. I hope you learned something interesting and useful. Tomorrow, I will discuss rest and stress. Until then, here’s to our hearts!