According to the American Heart Association, heart disease claims about 859,000 lives each year in the U.S. and nearly 18 million lives worldwide. Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a heart attack or a stroke. The good news is heart disease can be prevented with diet, exercise, weight management and behavioral modifications.
What is heart disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a set of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels. Heart disease is a type of CVD that affects the heart’s structure and function and is also referred to as “coronary heart disease”. There are many categories of cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and congenital heart disease.
What are the risk factors?
Your environment, diet, relationships, genetics, weight, exposure to toxins/heavy metals, stress levels, age and sex influence the development of chronic disease. More specifically for heart disease, dysregulation in blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and kidney health increase risk.
However, the top five risk factors are hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, dyslipidemia (raise cholesterol levels), obesity and smoking. These risk factors create insults to the cardiovascular system with inflammation, oxidative stress (free radicals) and vascular dysfunction (Houston, 2018). In other words, they harm your blood vessels, make the body work harder with fewer resources and create more of the bad guys in the body (free radicals) which interfere with normal body processes.
To prevent heart disease, we must reduce these risk factors and the stress they cause.
How does diet help?
Nutrition for prevention is the most important behavioral, self-empowering change you can make. Because we eat every day, three or more times a day, what you put in your mouth matters. We choose to eat foods that create the problem or prevent it. In fact, countries consuming a Western or Standard American diet (SAD) have the highest rates of CVD. The SAD diet is high in saturated & trans fat, salt, sugar, corn syrup and processed foods, and is proven to increase the risk for all chronic disease. Moreover, a diet high in added sugars has been found to cause a 3-fold increased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease (DiNicolantonio, 2016). Conversely, dietary approaches emphasizing whole foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables reduced cardiovascular risk by 80%!
Which diets are best?
As with most conditions there is no one size fits all approach or a singular magic food that can prevent a disease. However, several diets have been proven to prevent heart disease and reduce overall risk by affecting blood pressure, cholesterol, oxidative stress and glucose levels. For instance, studies support a plant-based/vegetarian diet in prevention of heart disease through significant reduction of blood cholesterol levels. On the flip side, a paleolithic diet also shows promise with a 23% reduction in mortality. Additionally, the DASH diet has proven to lower blood pressure and reduce hypertension. Finally, the Mediterranean diet continues to top the charts with significantly lower risk of cardiac death (around 76%) as well as lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol markers, reduction in diabetes and high blood sugar levels, and decreased oxidative stress and inflammation.
Are there specific foods that help?
Many foods show preventive benefits, but fruit and leafy greens come out on top.
In fact, fruits such as grape, blueberry, pomegranate, apple, hawthorn, and avocado have been widely studied and have shown strong associations with lowered CVD risk (Zhao et al., 2017). Additionally, specific food compounds in turmeric, cinnamon, broccoli, green tea, celery, olives, oranges, hibiscus and rosemary help block inflammation and strengthen cardiovascular function.
If you already on medications, please be sure to discuss any supplements or herbs with your doctor before starting something new.
In prevention of chronic disease, you cannot rely on diet alone. Exercise is also critical in maintaining a strong and healthy body and reducing stress. For cardio-protective benefits, aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise nearly every day (or 150 minutes per week). Strength training, walking, swimming, rebounding, or playing sports are all good options. Just don’t push yourself too hard because that can cause stress as well.
There is no better time or day like today, right now, to show your heart some love. No matter what you do or eat, your heart continues to beat for you and keeps you alive. With a proper diet, regular exercise, positive body love and awareness, you can reduce your chances for becoming another statistic.
All participants receive a copy of my Love Your Heart E-book.
American Heart Association Fact Sheet (2020) https://professional.heart.org/en/science-news/-/media/dc8e61482d5f4292bbd17e167dbf3ea8.ashx
DiNicolantonio, J. J., Lucan, S. C., & O’Keefe, J. H. (2016). The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 58(5), 464–472. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2015.11.006
Houston M. (2018). The role of noninvasive cardiovascular testing, applied clinical nutrition and nutritional supplements in the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease. Therapeutic advances in cardiovascular disease, 12(3), 85–108. https://doi.org/10.1177/1753944717743920
Ravera, A., Carubelli, V., Sciatti, E., Bonadei, I., Gorga, E., Cani, D., Vizzardi, E., Metra, M., & Lombardi, C. (2016). Nutrition and Cardiovascular Disease: Finding the Perfect Recipe for Cardiovascular Health. Nutrients, 8(6), 363. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8060363
Zhao, C. N., Meng, X., Li, Y., Li, S., Liu, Q., Tang, G. Y., & Li, H. B. (2017). Fruits for Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases. Nutrients, 9(6), 598. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9060598