By: Francisco Carreño Gálvez, Ph.D. on February 17th, 2022
5 Guidelines for a Heart-Healthy Diet
Lifestyle & Wellness | School of Metabolic Health | Wellness
Everybody wants to know what is good for their heart in terms of a diet. What does a heart-healthy diet involve? There's no one single heart-healthy diet, but there are some biological truths or biological fundamentals that apply to heart health.
Watch the video below or read on for more.
1. The common denominator of heart-healthy diets is inflammation, or the lack thereof.
There's one common denominator when we talk about a heart healthy diet. And it is to fight the common element in many of the other cardiometabolic diseases, which is inflammation.
Low-grade chronic inflammation is behind the development of many diseases and syndromes like metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, blood pressure, coronary artery disease.
A heart-healthy diet will be a diet focused on tackling inflammation, starting with the fats in the diet that we were just talking about.
It is well known that a lot of the vegetable oils used in processed food happen to be rich in Omega-6, which is a particular form of polyunsaturated fat. Omega-6 fats have a tendency to translate into inflammation in the body.
That's not necessarily bad when it's for a necessary event in the body that you get inflammation. The problem is that they counterbalance the anti-inflammatory fats, the famous omega-3s.
The key is that the ratio in our current diet tends to be extremely high. Some authors talk about 20 times more Omega-6 inflammatory to anti-inflammatory.
So, flipping those numbers and eating rich Omega-3s or monosaturated ones, like olive oil and avocado oil and some of the fats in some nuts, those are the good fats.
So, rule number one will be to stop eating inflammatory food. A simple google search will give you plenty of examples of processed foods, Omega-6 excessive vegetable oils, fried food, etc.
Some people that are especially sensitive to gluten tend to have an inflammatory response. Some people that are very sensitive to dairy have an inflammatory response. It's not that dairy is negative for the heart. It's that if it provokes inflammation, so it's negative for the heart.
2. Heart-healthy diets also include non-starchy vegetables and low-glycemic fruit.
Another rule will be of course non-starchy vegetables and low glycemic fruit. Fruit and veggies are, of course, good, but if you can go non-starchy? Even better.
All institutions recommend some whole grains or even quinoa fits here. That is very popular. Some people like legumes, which would be part of the starches, but most of your vegetables should come from the non-starchy ones, the green leaves, the celery, the asparagus, green beans, the green family, whatever you want.
And with fruit, the berries are the go-to. Raspberries are especially low in sugar. Why am I talking about that? Because insulin resistance among the population is very prevalent and insulin resistance is also associated with a pro-inflammatory state.
So it's everything that tackles inflammation right?
3. High-protein diets that promote lean body mass and reduce excessive fat tissue can also be heart healthy.
Another rule is protein. This is a controversial one as well. High-protein diets are associated with lean body mass, which is good. You don't want to have excessive fat tissue, which is inflammatory.
But there's also some evidence that sometimes it is good to reduce animal protein and increase vegetable proteins and kind of dance through the year with that. Sometimes you go to your animal protein and sometimes you go on a more plant-based.
4. Intermittent fasting or other time-restrictive feeding habits might also help.
Finally, a rule that is also important for a heart-healthy diet would be two aspects of your lifestyle that have fundamentals for heart health.
One is time restrictive feeding. The famous intermittent fasting that people are very hype about. When done properly and when your body can tolerate it well, it can have some anti-inflammatory effects in the time period that you are fasting. There are some changes at the molecular level that are anti-inflammatory.
5. And stress is a big factor in maintaining a heart-healthy diet.
And finally, one of the well-known killers of our society and our hearts is stress. Unmanaged stress is always bad stress. This includes the stress of being hype, being happy, and being surrounded by your loved ones, but you're not giving yourself time to process and to destress.
All those good self-care practices are important because the stress literally turns into inflammatory markers. Chronic stress, one of the effects on the body is to have a chronic elevation of cortisol.
Cortisol in small amounts is anti-inflammatory, but when it's chronic, it breaks out and it is actually very inflammatory. That also probably feeds sleep deprivation, which is devastating for your cardiovascular health.
That is the real heart-healthy diet. It's an anti-inflammatory diet that you can achieve by many concepts. The Mediterranean approach, the paleo approach, the ketogenic approach. With the plant-based approach, you'll have to work a little bit harder to get some of the fish oils and some of the protein and vitamins, but you can do it too.
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