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Benefits of a Heart Healthy Diet

From Dr. Richard Chazal, senior cardiologist and the Medical Director of Lee Health Heart and Vascular Institute, Past President of the American College of Cardiology and current Treasurer of the World Heart Federation, based in Geneva, Switzerland

Every 34 seconds, someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people in the United States (and in the world!) and Lee Health is committed to promoting cardiovascular health and keeping the community safe.

As we head into February - also known as Heart Month - we’d like to point out an easy lifestyle change that can help keep your heart in tip-top shape.

Why Should I Try a Heart Healthy Diet?

Knowing your family history, making healthy lifestyle choices and regular visits to your primary care physician are great ways to stay on top of your cardiovascular health. One place you can start today is with a heart healthy diet.

Make it your goal for the month of February to incorporate these heart healthy diet tips into your routine. If you haven’t considered your resolution for the New Year, this could be a great place to start.

What Steps Do I Take to Start a Heart Healthy Diet?

According to a national survey from Cleveland Clinic’s Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute, which Lee Health is an alliance member of, the most common barrier to a healthy diet is that almost half of Americans (46%) view healthy food as being more expensive, while also citing a lack of time to prepare healthy meals (23%) and unfamiliarity with healthy ways of cooking (20%).

In our fast-paced world when we’re all busy and pressed for time, it can seem overwhelming to add cooking a heart healthy meal, eating a balanced diet and researching what all of that entails into your routine.

We’ll give you some tips on how to get started and break it down into smaller steps so you feel confident and ready to start a new lifestyle change.

What Kind of Diet is Considered Heart Healthy?

The survey also found that many Americans are unclear on which diets are healthiest for their hearts. According to the Cleveland Clinic survey, 10% of Americans chose a fast-food diet as the most heart healthy diet, with parents being two times more likely than non-parents to choose it.

If you’re not certain what to cook for good heart health, do not worry. We’re here to help guide you.

Most heart disease is preventable by combining a healthier diet with regular exercise, not smoking and minimizing alcohol consumption.

According to the survey, a low fat (37%) and low carb diet (35%) are thought to be the most heart healthy by Americans, but it’s actually the Mediterranean diet that has the most data showing benefits for heart health. While other diets can also be advantageous (including a strict plant-based diet), another advantage of the Mediterranean Diet is that most people find it palatable and are more likely to sustain it long term.

Introducing the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, grains, olive oil and nuts, with some fish and poultry. It also minimizes dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets.

This diet is based on traditional Greek and Italian cuisines as well as other countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. Some staples of the diet include:

  • Vegetables and legumes
  • Plant-based foods
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruit
  • Fish and seafood
  • Dairy and poultry in moderation
  • Olive oil as a main source of added fat

Try building meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables, use olive oil instead of butter, eat fish twice a week and enjoy fresh fruit for dessert instead of sweets.

Try a different vegetable, bean, type of poultry or fruit each week, start small and trust the process, start with a few meals a week and increase them from there, check out the local farmers markets for fresh produce, and challenge yourself to follow the diet for a month and see how much healthier you feel.

What Else Can I Do to Prevent Heart Disease?

In addition to eating a balanced diet and incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your routine, it’s important to know if you have a family history of heart disease. You should also get regular checkups with your primary care doctor and practice other healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising regularly, not smoking and minimizing alcohol intake.

A heart healthy diet is a great start toward good heart health. When it’s paired with other healthy lifestyle choices, you have a much better chance of protecting your heart against cardiovascular disease.

If you're feeling pain in your chest, dizziness or shortness of breath, don’t ignore those signs and consult with your physician as soon as possible.