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A Cardiologist's Top Tips for Eating a Heart Healthy Diet

One of the most frequent questions cardiologist, Nicole Harkin M.D. is asked is what is the best diet for heart health since there is so much misinformation out there. From the low fat diet culture of the 90s to emerging fads like green juicing and keto, it’s hard to know who to trust and what to do. 

The food choices one makes can be a game changer to either causing or reversing heart disease. Research studies are now demonstrating that a nutrient-poor diet is  responsible for causing 1 in 5 deaths worldwide every year. You simply cannot out-run or out-meditate an unhealthful diet. The food choices we make now matter; it can either accelerate the development of heart disease ten-fold or make sure heart problems are never a part of our future. 

Let’s explore the science behind foods which fuel our bodies to live longer, be healthier, and feel better. 

Eat more plants

There is an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence which demonstrates that eating more plants reduces our risk of heart attack and stroke (not to mention most other chronic diseases). Everyone can stand to increase their intake of plants because they contain tons of fiber (vital for our gut health and blood sugar control) as well as vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, polyphenols, and antioxidants. You just can’t get these vital elements which control every cell function from any other resource except for plants. 

Research is now confirming what our ancestors centuries ago have been preaching: choose predominantly foods rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds with sparing consumption of ancient whole grains. Many trials have consistently demonstrated that a whole foods plant-based diet dramatically lowers the complications associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, and overall inflammation throughout the body. 

More specifically, the foods that have been demonstrated to be particularly heart healthy include leafy green vegetables, antioxidant rich berries, nuts, and plant-based protein sources such as legumes, beans, and non-genetically modified soy-based products.

What to cut out of your diet

Research is now clearly demonstrating that processed junk food, refined grains, and sugar sweetened beverages are totally devoid of things that nourish our body (like fiber). They contain tons of poisonous toxins our body cannot easily process including  trans fats, sugar, pesticides and heavy metals. Working toward reducing these things in our diet is uncontroversially important. It’s also probably the hardest thing to eliminate because they are designed to taste good (or in food industry parlance, “highly palatable”) and everywhere. 

Intake of processed meats (ie hamburgers, hotdogs, deli meats) has consistently demonstrated to increase the risk of heart disease quite robustly, while the intake of unprocessed red meat, eggs, and dairy products show a similar, but less profound, association with causing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart cardiovascular disease. Importantly, replacing red meat with plant-based fresh food sources but NOT refined carbohydrates is associated with dramatically lowering the risk of heart disease. Beyond the fact that animal products tend to be high in saturated fat (which increases LDL cholesterol) and sodium, they also contain other bioactive molecules that appear to be detrimental to our health including heme iron, nitrates, and carnitine (which gets converted to TMAO, a metabolite strongly linked to increased risk for heart disease).

So how should I move towards a heart-healthy diet?

  1. First and foremost, Dr. Harkin’s motto - progress over perfection. When life gets crazy, every day cannot be an Instagram worthy meal; that is just fine. Do your best to set yourself up for success, and when it doesn’t happen, give yourself grace and just keep moving on!
  2. Start with 1 or 2 meatless meals a week (unless you’re the rare type who likes to go all in at once). If you’ve already got Meatless Monday down, then I challenge you to add a second or third completely meat-free meal in. Going slow can also help beat feeling too bloated when you suddenly increase your fiber intake.
  3. For the rest of your meals, focus on fitting in more vegetables and other plants, rather than taking things away. Approach each meal as an opportunity to nourish your body with more fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and minerals. For some, shifting your mindset to focus on what you are adding rather than eliminating can be immensely helpful. Even if you’re having meat, eggs, or dairy products at a meal, limit that portion to 1/4 of the plate and crowd it out with plants. Try to have the animal protein be the sideshow, rather than the main attraction.
  4. Your freezer is your friend. Frozen fruits and veggies are almost as nutritious as fresh and great to have on hand! I always have tons of frozen veggies on hand for quick meals (think veggie loaded pasta or stir fry). Frozen veggies like zucchini are a must have for smoothies, and a great way to get in lots of fruits and veggies into those picky kids. Double your soup recipes and freeze the other half for another night.
  5. Stock your pantry with all the basics. Shelf stable, healthy plant based foods are great to have on hand for quick meals. Must haves include oats, lentils, ancient whole grain or bean pastas (stay away from wheat or corn whenever possible), and seeds (chia, flax, and hemp). If you love nuts, try nut-based cheeses, dips and dressings. Use nutritional yeast to replace whenever possible. Think outside the box, like olives, artichokes, or sun-dried tomatoes to elevate salads and other dishes.

Learn more about integrative cardiologist Dr. Nicole Harkin M.D. at http://www.wholeheartcardiology.com. For more tips on heart healthy eating, and other hot heart health topics, check out Dr. Harkin’s blogs.

 

Dr. Bhandari and the Advanced Health Team Are Here to Support Your Health.

Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concerns.  We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plans. If you still feel stuck and need additional guidance regarding creating a personalized treatment plan which incorporates your dietary preferences and our unique risk factors, do contact us at Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.

Together we are here to help you on your journey toward optimal health.



References:

 

https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(19)30041-8/fulltext

 

https://www.whi.org/

 

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa1200303

 

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2540540

 

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2759737

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