8 Ways to Prevent Heart Disease
By Richard Béliveau, Ph.D., and Denis Gingras, Ph.D.
If you agree with the adage “you can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred”, spoken by the curmudgeon himself Woody Allen, you may be selling heart health short.
The truth is, changing a few habits can vastly improve not only your overall health, but your every day dining experience.
Don’t believe it? Check this out:
Eat your vegetables (and fruit) – If you’d rather open a bag of chips than eat a potato, consider this: each daily portion of fruits and vegetables reduces by about 4% the risk of coronary diseases, which is an excellent reason to eat these foods as often as possible.
Whole grains – Who would believe that a change in lifestyle as simple as replacing everyday white bread with bread containing whole grains could reduce the risk of coronary disease and stroke by 40%? But it really can!
Whole grains are one of those foods whose remarkable impact on the prevention of chronic diseases is greatly underestimated. Whole grains contain an abundance of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, phytochemical compounds, and fibres present in both the bran (outside layer) and the germ (layer inside the bran). It is becoming increasingly clear that all these act synergistically to prevent the development of heart disease. In addition, eating whole grains helps to prevent too great a variation in blood sugar levels, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes.
Nuts – We absolutely must rediscover nuts, too often dismissed because of their high fat content.
They are a remarkable source of monounsaturated fats that are beneficial to the health of the cardiovascular system. Studies have shown that daily consumption of one portion of nuts reduces the risk of coronary disease by as much as 30%! This effect is even more pronounced if the nuts are replacing “processed” snacks rich in sugar, saturated fats, or trans fats. So, if the bag of chips still looms large in your mind, try a handful of nuts instead.
Omega-3 – The first indication of the benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids came from studies conducted among the Inuit of Greenland who, despite a diet almost exclusively based on the consumption of sea animal meat, are surprisingly unaffected by heart disease.
The animals in their diet, and most fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel, contain large amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that play a major role in the prevention of certain coronary diseases.
Even modest consumption of about 250 to 500 mg of EPA and DHA a day – barely equivalent to a half-portion (100 g) of salmon – reduces by about 40% the risk of mortality due to coronary disease. And this positive effect sets in quickly: Studies have shown that regular consumption of fatty fish causes positive effects on the heart within weeks by reducing episodes of arrhythmia, a pathology often responsible for sudden death.
Green tea – Recent studies show that people who drink at least two cups of green tea a day (about 500 mL) have a 16% lower mortality rate than those who drink less. This effect is especially pronounced in women: While the mortality rate of men who are regular tea drinkers is reduced by 12%, that of females is 23% lower, resulting in a protective effect two times greater! This protective effect seems mainly due to a major reduction in mortality rates associated with coronary disease (25%) and especially with stroke (60%).
Chocolate – Numerous studies have shown that cocoa paste contains very high amounts of proanthocyanidin, a class of polyphenols that has many properties beneficial to health. For example, Kuna Indians, who live on islands near Panama, consume huge amounts of cacao and have normal blood pressure despite a high-salt diet. This is due to the positive effect of cacao polyphenols on the dilatation of arteries, and the decrease in platelet aggregation, two factors that play a major role in the development ofhypertension and heart disease.
A recent study shows that people who regularly consume 70% dark chocolate (about 20 g per day) show a marked improvement in blood flow, while no improvement is observed in those who eat “processed” chocolate, which contains very little cocoa paste.