Combat Heart Disease with Your Fork

According to the most recent statistics offered by the American Heart Association, one in three American adults has one or more types of cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, angina, heart attack history, heart failure and/or stroke). Over half of these individuals are under the age of 60. I personally find this information shocking and saddening. Heart disease is largely a disease of lifestyle choice – choices we make on a day-to-day basis culminating over time. The amount of suffering for these individuals and those who care about them cannot be measured.
Our culture has not been set up to combat this disease effectively. Reliance upon extreme measures (surgery and drugs) remain the norm and well-supported by current health plans, while remedies which have been proven to be the most effective (diet and exercise changes) remain ignored and unsupported in our culture.
There has been a call to step forward and begin to take responsibility as a nation on many levels. Our health is just one area which can make a profound difference and have a powerful ripple effect nation-wide – stemming from our personal sphere of family, friends and co-workers to a more national level of insurance policies, health care plans, and the medical and food industries.
Begin with small, powerful changes to improve your heart health. The shift that can happen for you is beyond transformational. It requires simple steps, but it can be difficult to implement within the context of one’s day-to-day life. This is where support from your health providers, family members, a personal trainer and various communities becomes essential. As a friend of mine says, “Together, we can do better.”

* Move a little bit every day: Park further away, take an after dinner stroll for 10 minutes, take the stairs instead of the elevator, enlist the help of a personal trainer. 30 minutes a day or more. It doesn’t have to be all at once! Alternatively,use a pedometer to keep track of how many steps you take in a day – aim for 10,000!
* Eat Your Greens! Green foods are powerful heart protectors. They are full of fiber, antioxidants and are low in calories, helping to shed excess weight. I have written much about greens and different ways to get them into one’s daily diet. A great book to get started is Greens, Glorious Greens.
* Reduce Meat Consumption: The frequency of and quality of our animal food consumption
in this country is not supportive for the health for our bodies or the planet. If you have cardiovascular disease, multiple sources of research point to the benefit or reducing or eliminating consumption of beef, pork, and even chicken from your diet. Traditional cultures with low risk of disease use animal foods as a condiment and flavoring rather than a main course. Try eating a vegetarian diet 50% of the time (or more) and reserving meat for special occasions. There are many ways to do this that can be satisfying, nutritionally-sound, and even decadent! The work of T. Colin Campbell, Dean Ornish, and John McDougall may be of interest to you. Also, take a vegetarian cooking class to learn more about how lovely meat-free eating can be!

* Stop Smoking: If you are a smoker, quitting smoking alone will radically improve your health. Do what you can to kick butt, being certain to implement stress-reduction techniques to help you stay smoke-free for the rest of your life.

* Bring in Reinforcements for Those Weak Spots: I have found in my practice that many people are diligent about one aspect of their health, but struggle with others. The expert dieter has a heck of a time sticking to an exercise regimen and the exercise enthusiasts struggle to keep their food streamlined. Regardless of your preference, it’s likely that you struggle with work-life balance, emotional nourishment, and adequate restoration. All these factors play into restoring your heart health. Reach out to those around you for support. If you need additional help, hiring a health professional or personal trainer to facilitate this transition can be a richly rewarding and empowering experience.

Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease by 82%!

I was reviewing a lecture given by Walter Willet of Harvard University and he shared some really profound information about the power of food and lifestyle choices and disease risk. All the data shared here stems from the Nurse’s Health Studies. The Nurses’ Health Studies are among the largest and longest running investigations of factors that influence women’s health.

Researchers taking a  look at the information gathered over the last twenty years wanted to determine how significantly diet and activity can reduce modern diseases of our time. They chose to make their criteria fairly reasonable for the average person to follow, yet scientifically validated for disease reduction. Based on what is known, the following factors reduce heart disease and diabetes:

  • A BMI of less than 25. Basically, this puts you at a reasonable weight for your height. A BMI slightly lower than this is optimal, but it was determined that it was fair to ask for Americans to strive for a BMI of 25 if they were not there already.
  • Non-smokers. I needn’t explain this one.
  • 30 minutes of exercise a day or more (brisk walking is a great example)
  • Follow a good diet. What does this mean?
  1. A Low Glycemic Diet. This is a dietary lifestyle that chooses foods which do not raise blood sugar rapidly. Whole grains, lean proteins and lots of fruits and vegetables. Basically a whole foods diet with little white sugar, white flour, white rice, soda or candy.
  2. A diet reasonable in good fats and low in bat fats. The percentage of fat itself isn’t as important as the quality of fat. Diets high in trans fats (the kind of fat we see as “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” oils on labels) are far more lethal to the body than saturated fats found in lard, bacon, and palm oils.
  3. Consume fish at least twice a week – cold water fish is high in omega-3 fats, which are cardio-protective as well as brain protective!
  4. Meet the RDA for folate — folate reduces homocysteine levels, protecting one from heart disease.
  5. A diet high in fiber – conveniently, this is also found in foods which have a low glycemic lload – whole grains, fruits, and veggies. The soluble fiber in apple and oatmeal is well known to reduce heart disease. Fiber also keeps the rest of the body running smoothly, so to speak.
  6. Limited alcohol consumption: 1 drink every other day or less.

Of the more than 200,000 participants in the study, only 3% met this criteria. And this 3% of the studied population had an 82% less likelihood of having heart disease and 92% less risk of Type 2 Diabetes!

To give you a rough comparison of what this means, the most successful and commonly used drug family to reduce heart disease – statin drugs – reduce your risk by only 25%. And along with the reduction comes a host of nasty side effects.

It’s information like this that inspired me into this field when I was a young girl. Most of the disease that we have in this country is largely avoidable by what we choose to put upon our plate! This is the most empowering knowledge! Each of us, every day, make a vote to improve our health or promote disease with every bite on our fork.

If you or someone you love has already been diagnosed, it certainly is not to late. The human body has an amazing capacity for healing and rejuvenation when given the right nutrition. Begin changing your diet by using the steps above, many which complement and assist one another, and enlist support from your family, health professionals, and friends. All recipes on my website are heart healthy – try one tonight!
It’s never too late to choose differently.

More Sources:
The Nurses Health Study
Willet, Walter. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. Free Press, 2001