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Foods That Combat Heart DiseaseThe Nutritional Way to a Healthy Heart
By Lynn Sonberg
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Lynn Sonberg
All right reserved.
Fight Heart Disease Now
The evidence is in. You can dramatically reduce your odds of getting heart disease by watching what you put on your plate. Even people with advanced heart disease can actually eliminate their need for surgery by following a heart-healthy diet.
Dr. Dean Ornish led one of the most famous studies in recent decades that documented how heart disease can be halted or reversed through dietary changes, which restricted fat intake to less than 15 percent. His techniques, which also combined other lifestyle modifications (e.g., exercise and stress reduction) were widely published in medical journals. Time and again the results have been replicated by top scientists.
So there's ironclad scientific evidence (more than fifty years of it, actually) to support the link between diet and heart disease.
Early studies made the mistake of slashing daily fat intake to half of the 30 percent that is currently recommended by the American Heart Association. Because these early studies showed such dramatic cardiac risk reduction, Americans were taught a myth: All fat is bad. And then another myth was born: All carbs are good.
Today, we know that there are some fats and some carbs that are good for you, and others that are bad for you. But how did these myths get started? Well, once upon a time researchers noted the relationship between the fatty diets that are common in the West and high rates of coronary heart disease. Slash the fat, they reasonably surmised, and you'll also slash your risk of disease. Which is all well and good -- so long as what you plan to avoid is saturated fat. And don't replace that saturated fat with simple carbohydrates. When you consider that saturated fat represents 40 percent of all fat consumed in the United States, and when you become aware of the effect saturated fat has on your arteries, you start to see the rationale behind the fat is bad mantra.
Yet when you look at the Mediterranean diet, which gets 40 percent of its calories from fat and which has been shown to actually promote a healthy heart, you begin a much more complicated and yet (ultimately) satisfying education about fat. Mediterranean cultures have long demonstrated surprisingly low rates of heart disease, despite their love of wine and the relatively high percentage of fat that they consume.
Dr. Walter C. Willett decided to rethink the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture's (USDA) Food Guide Pyramid, which failed to distinguish between healthful, whole-grain carbs and refined carbs, or helpful fats and harmful fats. He took what we now know about the Mediterranean diet -- which contains large amounts of olive oil (the number one source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat), fish (a great source of heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids) and wine (which in moderation is good for cholesterol) -- and combined it with current research. The results, published in Scientific American in 2003, are nothing short of revolutionary. They're also very prescient: the USDA is now updating its food pyramid to reflect current thinking about how diet and disease interact.
The science tells us a number of things:
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice wreak havoc on the body's insulin levels, which increases heart disease risk.
- Replacing these carbs with whole grains (see page 20) reduces this risk.
- On the old food pyramid, meat, fish, and poultry were lumped together. We now know that we need to distinguish between harmful and helpful fats. Red meat and butter, which are high in saturated fat and which therefore increase heart disease risk, should be used very sparingly.
- The right fats (see page 11) actually protect the heart, and should be consumed at most meals.
What a difference a diet makes. Follow-up studies, wherein subjects ate in accordance with the new food pyramid, demonstrated a 30 percent decrease in heart disease risk among women and a 40 percent decrease among men. And the best part? Instead of focusing primarily on what not to eat, or what to restrict, Willet's model encourages us to fill our plates with an abundance of foods that actually help the heart. It is for that reason this chapter is structured around foods that protect (such as the right fats, the right carbs, the type of fiber that's particularly heart-healthy, and the very best of your heart-healthy vitamins and minerals) rather than harm. Naturally, you'll also learn about foods you should avoid, as well as what your cholesterol profile means, if you're at risk for developing high blood pressure, and so on.
Excerpted from Foods That Combat Heart Disease by Lynn Sonberg Copyright © 2006 by Lynn Sonberg. Excerpted by permission.
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