Around the world, nearly seven million people die of coronary heart disease every year. And despite the continuing advancements in surgery, diagnostic techniques, and pharmaceutical interventions, that number keeps going up.
As a cardiologist, I’ve treated many patients with heart disease. For years I prescribed drugs to patients who were suffering from high cholesterol and high blood pressure as the first step in treatment – because that is what I was taught to do.
But somewhere along the way, I started to notice that even though my patients’ “numbers” were improving, most didn’t look or feel any better. In fact, many patients were telling me that the drugs I had put them on, especially those for lowering cholesterol, were making them feel worse.
I knew there had to be a better way. And it turns out there is!
In fact, the data is right there for everyone to see – changing what we eat is the key to treating and preventing heart disease. So much so that studies have shown heart disease REVERSAL when lifestyle (and especially diet) are optimized.
The best part is, there are no side effects from eating better – just side benefits like lower blood pressure, better blood sugar control, weight loss, and a reduction in inflammation.
In one food-based study, 24 patients with severe coronary artery disease were offered an “experimental” dietary therapy on top of traditional medical care.
They were instructed to switch to a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet which consisted of whole grains, beans and lentils, vegetables and fruit. Of the 24 patients, 17 adhered to the WFPB diet and 7 opted out.
In the eight years before the study, those 17 patients collectively had 49 heart events including heart attacks, strokes, angioplasty, bypass surgery, and worsening angina. In the 12 years following their dietary change, they suffered no additional events.
This doesn’t mean medications don’t have a place. There’s plenty of data to support their use as well. But medications need to be thought of as an adjunct to optimized lifestyle – not the complete answer.
I saw this first hand when I started to incorporate nutrition into every treatment plan I created. All of a sudden, my patients were requiring less and less medication to control their health issues – and best of all, they FELT better!
I’ve even had some patients become non-patients because their health improved so much through dietary change.
This isn’t a diet that’s restricted or bland or even expensive. And because we eat multiple times per day, every day, even small sustained changes can yield dramatic health effects over time.
So, if you’re not ready to go all-in on a WFPB approach, you can still significantly improve your health by focusing on adding these nutrients to your diet:
Plant sterols are found naturally in many grains, nuts, seeds, veggies, and fruits. This nutrient helps lower cholesterol by blocking cholesterol absorption in the intestines. Broccoli, blueberries, and corn are rich in plant sterols. They’re also plentiful in almonds, walnuts, pecans, and flax.
Omega-3’s are the good fats. These fatty acids are essential to your health and can be found in fish like tuna, salmon, and halibut – as well as in nuts and seeds, including walnuts, flax, and chia. Omega-3’s help lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels, while helping promote brain health.
Found naturally in vegetables, fruits, coffee, and wait for it… chocolate and wine, antioxidants help prevent and stop cell damage. By incorporating these into your diet, you’re helping your body fight off disease and chronic ailments.
This plant-based nutrient is found in beans and grains, as well as fruits and vegetables, and helps keep food moving through your body. Fiber also aids in regulating blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol.
Together, these four nutrients play an essential role in keeping the main culprits of heart disease – diabetes, high-blood pressure, and high cholesterol – at bay.
But an important point needs to be made – getting these substances from food is preferable than getting them from supplements. Unlike the studies on food, studies on supplements have yielded generally disappointing results.
So, I encourage you to start incorporating more of these nutrients into your diet through small sustained dietary changes. It will make a big difference in how you feel, and most importantly, it will give you the best chance to improve your heart health and help you live well, longer.
How do you treat your high cholesterol, blood sugar level, and blood pressure? Do you use medications, or do you count on a healthy diet? Please share any experience you have with nutrients that have aided in improving your health.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.