While heart disease death rates in the U.S. have declined steadily over the last several decades, you’re still more likely to die of heart disease than any other cause(1). You hear facts about heart health that might scare you, like statistics showing that heart disease remains the number one cause of death for both men and women. Or that if you suffer from high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure, you’re very likely to be diagnosed with heart disease during your lifetime. All of those facts are true, but what you won’t hear touted nearly enough is that heart disease is not only preventable, it’s also REVERSIBLE.
That statement may shock you, but it is true. Indeed, the knowledge that we can reverse artery blockages is not new; it’s just that most physicians consider the lifestyle changes required to be so extreme, they don’t even bother to discuss them with their patients.
Can Diet Improve Heart Health?
It all starts with diet. Yes, the power of food. Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn have both demonstrated significant reversal of blockages in heart arteries and, more importantly, dramatic changes in the course of coronary artery disease by changing what their patients ate (2). Yes, their programs are based upon a whole food vegan eating plan, which is certainly different from the typical American diet. But extreme? Compared to what? Bypass surgery?
The reversal studies were carried out in patients with advanced heart disease. But that doesn’t mean all of us couldn’t benefit from incorporating more plant-based foods in our diet. Truthfully, it really is as simple as it sounds: eat more beans, greens, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains – and eat less of processed, sugary, and fatty foods, especially if that fat comes from animal sources. The best part? You will feel better almost immediately and will also be rewarded with improvements in your cholesterol, weight, blood sugar and blood pressure – significantly decreasing your risk of developing heart disease in the first place.
You don’t have to become an all-out vegan to see results. Even small sustained changes can yield health benefits over time. For example, switching out two less healthful choices for plant-based foods rich in whole food fiber, antioxidants, plant sterols and omega 3 fatty acids can yield significant positive, medication level changes in cholesterol profiles in just 30 days.
What you include in your diet for heart health is as important as what you exclude.
Foods are neither good nor bad, but some are healthier than others. A healthy diet should include food that is rich in good carbs, good fats, and good sources of protein. There are hundreds of foods that meet these goal, like organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nonfat dairy, and egg whites, to name a few. Shop the perimeter of your grocery store, concentrating on whole food options and avoiding the packaged foods with ingredient labels difficult to understand. These whole foods are rich in good carbs, good fats, good proteins and other protective substances. What you include is as important as what you exclude.
Not ready to commit to two changes? Even just adding an apple to your day can improve your health trajectory. Adding an apple a day might not seem like a big deal unless you consider that this translates into adding 3 BUSHELS of apples to your diet over the course of a year. That’s a lot of fiber and micronutrients you just ingested. And if that apple is in exchange for your usual doughnut, the health benefits are exponential.
Simple meals and snacks that help support a healthy heart naturally
Dark Chocolate Walnut Bars
The sweetest way to take care of your heart. This indulgent Dark Chocolate Walnut Bar tastes like your favorite flourless chocolate cake – rich, dense, divine. Nutty chunks of walnut and 72% cacao dark chocolate are front and center, while dried berries and dates add a touch of sweetness that’s good for you in every way. It’s the perfect ending to any meal or ideal for appeasing midday munchies.
Get ready to rise and shine. Mornings take on a new light with this exceptionally nutritious and incredibly delicious oatmeal that you’ll love eating. It’s brimming with real blueberries and nuts and warmly spiced with just the right amount of cinnamon for full flavor. Plus, it’s fiber-rich to ensure you stay full all morning long. Blueberry & Cinnamon Oatmeal makes kicking off a great day easy – just add water!
Reducing the Cases of Heart Disease
There’s no question heart disease is a serious health concern. It affects people of ALL ages and can impact you dramatically, suddenly and out of the blue. About 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease in 2020—that’s 1 in every 5 deaths (3). And we’re not winning the war against this killer and disabler. Recent trends show the opposite with troubling increases in heart attack and stroke rates in younger and younger individuals. Focusing on your heart health is important.
But we all have the power to stop becoming statistics. We just have to harness it. For prevention and reversal of our number one killer.
(1) Learn more about heart disease.
Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist and founder of Preventive Cardiology Consultants in Minneapolis. She is also the founder and chief medical officer of Step One Foods, a company dedicated to helping patients minimize their dependence on medications through strategic dietary changes.
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