Cardiovascular disease diet

The link between diet and cardiovascular disease is a strong one. Diets high in saturated fats, salt, cholesterol and sugar increase the risk of heart disease; and diets high in fresh fruit, vegetables and fiber decrease it. Many population studies show that a "Mediterranean diet"that is high in olive oil, fresh and dried fruit, grains, legumes and nuts appears to lower both cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.


Fiber in the diet reduces the risk of heart disease. Daily intake should be around 35 grams. Fiber binds cholesterol and fats and lessens their absorption. It also decreases total and LDL cholesterol levels and increases protective HDL cholesterol levels. Results of studies such as the Physicians Health Study show that fewer heart attacks occur in those that eat more fiber, particularly the soluble type found in oat bran, fruit and vegetables.

Cardiovascular disease dietFat

Reducing dietary fat has the greatest impact on lowering blood cholesterol and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, it is not only the amount of fat in the diet that affects the risk of heart disease, but also the type.

Saturated fats are found in animal foods such as meat, butter and cheese; and plant foods such as coconut oil and palm oil. Trans fats are unsaturated fats, which have undergone a chemical process called hydrogenation to turn them into saturated fats. They are found in packaged foods such as pastries, cookies, crackers and baked goods. High consumption of these fats increases cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increases platelet aggregation. This contributes to atherosclerosis. Polyunsaturated fats which are found in oils of plant origin such as safflower, sesame, sunflower and corn may help to lower cholesterol and decrease platelet aggregation, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. However, polyunsaturated oils are susceptible to oxidation and may also lower HDL cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats such as those found in canola, olive and peanut oils may also help to lower cholesterol and decrease platelet aggregation. They are also less susceptible to oxidation. Adequate intakes of the essential fatty acids are important in the prevention of heart disease.

The results of a 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that replacing saturated and trans-unsaturated fats with unhydrogenated monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is more effective in preventing coronary heart disease in women than reducing overall fat intake.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that 15 to 30 per cent of calories in the diet come from fat. Of this, a maximum of 10 per cent should come from saturated fats and also no more than 10 per cent from polyunsaturated fatty acids. The AHA also recommends that intake of dietary cholesterol, which is only found in animal foods, should be no more than 300 mg per day. Only saturated fatty acids and dietary cholesterol raise blood cholesterol. Some experts recommend very low fat diets to reduce the risk of, and even actually reverse damage caused by atherosclerosis. One such diet, which is known as the Ornish diet, recommends limiting fat intake to 10 per cent of calories.


The AHA recommends that 50 to 55 per cent, or more, of calories should come from carbohydrates, with the emphasis mainly on complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, beans and grains. Complex carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly into the blood than simple carbohydrates. This avoids the sharp rises and falls in insulin that a diet high in simple sugars can cause. Refined sugar also seems to cause a greater increase in blood fat levels than more complex carbohydrates.

In fat tissue, insulin facilitates the storage of glucose and its conversion to fatty acids, and also slows the breakdown of fatty acids. Thus sharp rises in insulin may contribute to obesity and heart disease, and it seems that blood insulin stores correspond to body fat stores. The longer and more often insulin levels are high the more likely sugars are to be converted to and stored as fat. This increases the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Eating large amounts of foods high in both fat and sugar further increases the risk.


Diets high in animal protein seem to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease while diets high in vegetable proteins lower it.

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