Heart-Healthy Eating

by John & Barbara Connor, M.Ac., L.Ac.

John and I would like to share with you today some of the studies that we have found that are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. We are also including at the end of this article some of the studies on foods that are associated with increased risk of heart disease. We hope you find this helpful in your quest for optimal health.

Foods that May be Associated with a Reduced Risk of Heart Disease or Which May Benefit Cardiovascular Health:

Anthocyanins present in red and blue fruits and vegetables
Cilantro (coriander)
Fish, poultry, dairy products, and especially nuts
Isolated soy protein diet
Mediterranean diet
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids
Soy-based diet
Whole grains, legumes, and nuts

There is a growing consensus that systemic inflammation is at the heart of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Inflammation is a key feature of the immune system, functioning to defend tissue integrity and function. However, chronic stimulation of inflammatory mediators leads to lasting vascular reactivity, insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia, and, subsequently, chronic disease. (Johnston C 2009)

Anthocyanins – A high intake of anthocyanins may reduce myocardial infarction (MI) risk in predominantly young women. Flavonoids are widely distributed in many plant-based foods and beverages, including fruits, vegetables, tea, and wine, and the subclasses commonly consumed in the US diet include flavanones, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavonols, flavones, and polymeric flavonoids. Our findings suggest that bioactive compounds present in red and blue fruits and vegetables commonly consumed in the habitual diet may be associated with a reduced risk of MI in young and middle-aged women. (Cassidy et al 2013)

Antioxidants – Various reports suggest that antioxidant therapy after ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) would help the myocardium to recover from reactive oxygen species (ROS)-induced damage. The deleterious effects of ROS on cardiac tissue can be blocked by antioxidant enzymes such as superoxide dismutase and catalase. These studies indicated that antioxidants capable of scavenging ROS, including reactive oxygen free radicals such as superoxide, hydroxyl, and peroxyl radicals, could have therapeutic advantages to treat I/R-mediated cardiac injury. (Swaminathan et al 2010)  Antioxidants are found in cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, beans, artichokes, Russet potatoes, walnuts and hazelnuts.

Cilantro (coriander) – Our results show that methanolic extract of CS (Coriandrum sativum L.) is able to prevent myocardial infarction by inhibiting myofibrillar damage. It is also concluded that, the rich polyphenolic content of CS extract is responsible for preventing oxidative damage by effectively scavenging the Isoproterenol generated ROS. (Patel et al 2012)

DHA & EPA – The most compelling evidence for the cardiovascular benefit provided by omega-3 fatty acids comes from 3 large controlled trials of 32,000 participants randomized to receive omega-3 fatty acid supplements containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or to act as controls. These trials showed reductions in cardiovascular events of 19% to 45%. These findings suggest that intake of omega-3 fatty acids, whether from dietary sources or fish oil supplements, should be increased, especially in those with or at risk for coronary artery disease. Patients should consume both DHA and EPA. (Lee et al 2008)

Fish, poultry, dairy products, and especially nuts – In a large study of 84,136 U.S. women, it was found that greater consumption of red meat was associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease. Compared to the same number of servings of red meat, consumption of fish, poultry, dairy products, and especially nuts was associated with lower risk. These finding suggest that the risk of coronary heart disease may be reduced importantly by shifting the sources of protein in the U.S. diet. (Bernstein et al 2010)

Isolated soy protein diet – The ISP (isolated soy protein) diet was able to improve ventricular systolic and diastolic function in the groups IS<25% and IS>25% (left ventricular end diastolic pressure was reduced by 44% and 24%, respectively) and to decrease myocardial oxidative stress. The overall results confirm the preventive role of soy-derived products in terms of post-MI myocardial dysfunction probably by an antioxidant action. (Hagen et al 2009)

Mediterranean diet – Consistent evidence suggests that the promotion of the Mediterranean dietary pattern is an effective and feasible tool for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. (Martinez-Gonzalez & Bes-Rastrollo 2014)

Mediterranean diet – In this primary prevention trial, we observed that an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, resulted in a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk persons. The results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. (Estruch et al 2013)

Mediterranean-style diet – Higher consumption of a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with decreased risk of vascular events. Results support the role of a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil in the promotion of ideal cardiovascular health. (Gardener et al 2011)

Mediterranean diet – A healthy food pattern such as the Mediterranean diet, which includes a combination of antioxidant compounds and flavonoid-rich foods, appears effective to decrease LDL particle oxidizability, which may give some insight of the cardiovascular benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet. (Lapointe et al 2006)

Nuts – Nuts and walnuts in particular have been associated with a reduced risk for cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and inflammation markers. (Toner C 2014)

Oatmeal – Seven of the eight studies reported lower total and low density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol with oatmeal foods than control foods. When the studies were combined in a meta-analysis lower total cholesterol (-0.20 mmol/L, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.31 to -0.10, P = 0.0001 ) and LDL cholesterol (0.18 mmol/L, 95% CI -0.28 to -0.09, P < 0.0001) were found with oatmeal foods. However, there is a lack of studies on other wholegrains or wholegrain diets. (Kelly et al 2007 Cochrane Database Syt Rev.)

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – are found in fish oil and they have been shown to mitigate the risk of cardiovascular disease. They reduce fatal and nonfatal myocardial infarction, stroke, coronary artery disease, sudden cardiac death, and all-cause mortality. They also have beneficial effects in mortality reduction after a myocardial infarction. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to have beneficial effects on arrhythmias, inflammation, and heart failure. They may also decrease platelet aggregation and induce vasodilation. Omega-3 fatty acids also reduce atherosclerotic plaque formation and stabilize plaques preventing plaque rupture leading to acute coronary syndrome. Moreover, omega-3 fatty acids may have antioxidant properties that improve endothelial function and may contribute to its antiatherosclerotic benefits. (Kar S 2011)

Soy-based diet – In addition, the increase in lipid peroxidation seen in rats subjected to myocardial infarction was significantly mitigated when the isolated soy protein diet was given. These findings suggest a nutritional approach of using a soy-based diet for the prevention of oxidative-stress-related diseases such as heart failure. (Hagen et al 2012)

Spices – are rich in antioxidants, and scientific studies suggest that they are also potent inhibitors of tissue damage and inflammation caused by high levels of blood sugar and circulating lipids. (Vasanthi & Parameswari 2010)

Walnuts have been shown to decrease low density lipoprotein cholesterol (by ∼9-16%) and blood pressure (diastolic blood pressure by ∼2-3 mm Hg), 2 major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). In addition, walnuts improve endothelial function, decrease both oxidative stress and some markers of inflammation, and increase cholesterol efflux. The effect of walnuts on multiple CVD targets over relatively short periods of time supports recommendations for their inclusion in a heart-healthy diet. (Kris-Etherton PM 2014)

Whole grains, legumes, and nuts have also been demonstrated in clinical trials to effectively reduce inflammatory mediators and risk for cardiovascular disease. (Johnston C 2009)

The intake of wholegrain foods clearly protects against heart disease and stroke. (Flight & Clifton 2006)

Foods that Should be Avoided that May be Associated with an Increased Risk of Heart Disease:

Avoid red meat – In a large study of 84,136 U.S. women, it was found that greater consumption of red meat was associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease. (Bernstein et al 2010)

Avoid partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – The fatty acids in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are 14 cis and trans isomers of octadecenoic and octadecadienoic acids that are formed during hydrogenation. They cause inflammation and calcification of arterial cells: known risk factors for coronary heart disease. (Kummerow FA 2009)

Avoid trans fatty acids (TFA) – A meta-analysis of prospective studies indicated 24, 20, 27 and 32% higher risk of myocardial infarction (MI) or coronary heart disease death for every 2% energy of trans fatty acids (TFA) consumption isocalorically replacing carbohydrate, saturated fatty acids, cis monounsaturated fatty acids and cis polyunsaturated fatty acids, respectively. (Mozaffarian et al 2009)

Reduce hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Hyperglycemia on admission to the hospital is associated with increased mortality rates in patients with ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI). (Eitel et al 2012)

Skipping meals have been positively associated with several cardio-metabolic health outcomes including overweight and weight gain, dyslipidemia, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and diabetes. We observed in this large prospective study of middle aged and older US male health professionals that eating breakfast was associated with significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease. (Cahill et al 2014)

There is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has any positive effects on health. Indeed, the literature indicates a general lack of any effect (good or bad) from a reduction in fat intake. The public fear that saturated fat raises cholesterol is completely unfounded as the low-density lipoprotein particle size distribution is worsened when fat is replaced with carbohydrate. (DiNicolantonio J 2014)


Compassionate Acupuncture and Healing Arts, providing craniosacral acupuncture, herbal and nutritional medicine in Durham, North Carolina. Phone number 919-309-7753.


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