Many popular diets claim to be the only one that can help to prevent cardiovascular disease. Although their overall claims may be unproven, each popular diet has some food choices that are generally accepted as beneficial to heart health. Here are some examples:
The Paleo Diet
Advocates of this diet will only consume foods eaten during the Paleolithic period of human existence. This was the age before agriculture when humans were hunter- gatherers. Exhumed remains from this period show humans that were physically taller and healthier than those who began to produce their own crops after the advent of farming.
Paleolithics also appear not to have suffered from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or obesity, all of which plague consumers of modern Western diets. Current hunter-gatherers, such as the Masai tribe in Africa, also exhibit very low incidence of cardiovascular disease
The Paleo Diet allows only lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It doesn't include grains, dairy, legumes, salt, or processed foods. This diet's emphasis on healthy protein and fats, and its exclusion of salt and processed foods make it a good choice for those with cholesterol, obesity, or high blood pressure issues, All of these problems are associated with cardiovascular disease.
The Mediterranean Diet
This diet is more plant based and focused on whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Healthy fats such as olive oil replace butter and other saturated fats. Fish and chicken are consumed instead of red meats. Red wine is consumed in moderation.
The components of the Mediterranean Diet combine to produce many benefits for cardiovascular health. Whole grains and legumes are full of fiber, which helps to control hunger and obesity. Nuts provide omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to curtail heart disease. Saturated fats are linked with elevated cholesterol levels, which can cause buildup in the arteries of the heart, so the uses of healthy fats and lean meats are welcome substitutes. Red wine contains antioxidants, which are thought to be beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
Although these diets may help in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diet alone won't solve the problem. Physical activity is also necessary to maintain heart health. If individuals wish to truly emulate hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic period or those who live in the Mediterranean region, they should also copy their level of physical activity. Being physically active is a part of any healthy lifestyle or culture, and a necessary component for health.
For more information about cardiovascular disease, contact Mohan Jacob, MD, FACC, FCCP.