A heart healthy diet is one of the most profound ways we can support and protect our cardiovascular system. We know from studying various cultures and diets around the world that what we eat really does matter!
For example, the Mediterranean diet is a famous healthy heart diet. The Mediterranean heart healthy diet is high in fish and other healthy fats like olive oil which prevent oxidative damage.
From the 1950‘s until somewhat recently a low cholesterol diet and a low fat diet were thought to be a heart healthy diet. We now know that this is absolutely not true!
Here are 4 ways to promote a heart healthy diet that go beyond a low cholesterol diet and a low fat diet.
Yep, you read that right.
Eat more saturated fat and by saturated fat I mean egg yolks and olive oil but also fats from animals that are raised on small pastured farms, without the excessive use of antibiotics and no use of hormones.
In an unfortunate series of events (spanning over five decades!) we’ve been fed the lie that saturated fats increase coronary heart disease risk while vegetable oils decrease heart disease. This myth (or rather poorly done science) led to a low cholesterol diet rampage in North America. Since the low cholesterol diet and low fat diet have been preached in the United States we have seen coronary heart disease soar to become the #1 killer of men and women.
What we now know is that saturated fats do not cause heart disease. In fact, fats are an important part of a heart healthy diet.
Instead, it is inflammation and oxidative damage that cause heart disease and raise triglycerides to unhealthy levels.
Healthy fats, like saturated fat and omega 3’s, decrease inflammation and oxidative damage and normalize triglyceride levels.
Sometimes called the Eskimo Paradox, we know that Inuit peoples eating a traditional diet have markedly lower incidence of heart disease. Over 50% of their traditional diet is calories from fat. Amazing!
According to mainstream thoughts on heart disease, a diet that consisted of 50% fat would assuredly be a nail in the coffin. However, we see living examples that the opposite is true.
A diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids significantly decreases triglycerides and decreases inflammation.
Of course, eating healthy saturated fats and diets high in Omega 3’s is not the same as eating a fast food hamburger. (More on what to avoid in numbers 3 and 4 of this article.)
Contrary to popular myths, heart disease is not caused by eating saturated fat or cholesterol. Instead, heart disease is caused by inflammation and oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is caused by free radical damage. Free radicals are molecules in the body that are missing an electron. As a result, they rob electrons from other molecules, thus causing damage.
Antioxidants are nature’s protection plan and are an important part of a heart healthy diet. Dietary or herbal antioxidants scavenge free radicals and prevent oxidative damage.
The best thing is that many delicious foods are high in antioxidants, making them an easy beneficial substance to add to your life.
The following table is a listing of foods high in antioxidants.
For decades we’ve been told that vegetable oils such as canola oil are the “heart healthy choice”. This is absolutely not true. If you are still hosting canola oil in your cabinet, please chuck it out now!
Canola oil is made from the rapeseed plant, which is actually quite toxic to humans. Because of its inherent toxicity it is highly processed to make it (supposedly) safe for human consumption.
The result is an oil that is most likely rancid (creating more oxidative damage) and high in omega 6’s.
The ideal ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s is 1:1. However, most people in North America have a ratio closer to 15:1!
A ratio of 4:1 is already associated with increased cardiovascular risk!
Even though this is listed last, it could arguably be the most important factor facing many people eating a standard western diet today.
Most people are eating too many simple carbs. And by simple carbs I mean everything from sodas to high sugar foods to breads and pastas.
This overconsumption of sugars is leading us on an insulin resistant and diabetes epidemic.
Eating a high simple carb diet leads to chronically high insulin levels and chronically high blood glucose levels. The direct effect of this is chronic inflammation, which then leads to a host of other diseases, notably coronary heart disease and cancer.
In my opinion, this is one of THE most important causes of the dramatic heart disease rates we are seeing today.
For most people a low cholesterol diet and a low fat diet do not promote a healthy heart.
Eating healthy fats (especially fish and pastured animals which have lots of omega 3 fatty acids), lots of vegetables and plenty of protein can go a long way to reversing the epidemic of heart disease rates today. A heart healthy diet should also include a variety of antioxidants to further decrease inflammation and oxidative damage.
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and the Education Director for LearningHerbs. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.