Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of both men and women globally, killing approximately 17 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. Recently, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released new guidelines for cardiac prevention guidelines, emphasizing the use of one of the most prescribed classes of medications – statins. However, statins have potentially serious and uncomfortable side effects like memory loss, liver damage, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and muscle damage. But what about diet? Yes, diet…one of the most critical and often ignored components to heart and vascular health. Physicians like Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn have reversed heart disease with food. Bonus: there are no negative side effects to eating a heart-healthy diet. Instead, there are only benefits like weight management, healthy digestive function, and increased energy. Here are 5 easy ways to avoid cardiovascular disease without the harmful use of prescription medication:
- Make at least half of your diet fruits and vegetables. Nutrients found in raw and cooked produce provide a plethora of antioxidants that keep your immune system ready to fight against oxidation and inflammation…two hugely critical components that cause atherosclerosis and CVD.
- Minimize saturated fat intake. Saturated fats – found mostly in animal products (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy), but also in tropical plant oils (coconut, palm, and palm kernel) – promote atherosclerosis, clog arteries, and set the stage for elevated cholesterol levels and CVD.
- Eat a high-fiber diet. Fiber is your friend when it comes to lowering total and LDL- cholesterol levels, decreasing C-reactive protein levels (a marker for inflammation in the body), and the only foods high in fiber (plants) also come packaged along with blood vessel supportive antioxidants and phytochemicals. Base your diet on the Plant-Based Food Guide Pyramid and Plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and a small dose of nuts and/or seeds for the most fiber-rich and nutritional bang for your caloric buck.
- Mind your (food-sources of) B vitamins to keep homocysteine levels in check. High homocysteine levels have (albeit controversially) been associated with increased risk of CVD. Eating plenty of whole plant foods, especially leafy greens, legumes, and seeds for folate, vitamin B6, and riboflavin, along with supplementing with vitamin B12 will help temper blood homocysteine levels.
- Exercise consistently. Your heart is a muscle that requires regular challenges to maintain and improve its efficiency and efficacy at pumping blood throughout your body. Move often in casual, informal ways in addition to committing to daily intense exercise. Walk, run, swim, bike, jump rope, dance, hit the cardio equipment at the gym. Just make it happen. Your heart and every other system in your body will thank you.