Good Nutrition Can Slash Your Risk of Heart Disease

Fatty fish like salmon are good for your heart.

Did you hear the latest news that eggs are back on the shortlist of “bad” foods for your heart? Higher egg consumption has been associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and premature death, according to a large study recently published by The Journal of the American Medical Association.

It was just a few years ago that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made us all feel better about eating eggs. The committee had indicated that "cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption."

The debate may never end as studies continue to link, and then unlink, dietary cholesterol with CVD. In a way, I’m glad for that. It means we’re putting a spotlight on nutrition as a factor in heart disease, a topic I’m passionate about – so much so that my daughter, a licensed nutritionist, is an integral part of my internal medicine practice in Catonsville, MD.

I recently wrote a blog on why I don’t see many heart attacks in my practice. Part of that is because, as an MDVIP-affiliated physician, I have both the tools and time to assess patients’ CVD risks and create a personalized roadmap to better health. Nutrition is always front and center.

But eggs? They’re hardly part of the discussion. We have solidly proven that eating foods high in cholesterol does not cause a harmful alteration in blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL particle number.

When it comes to CVD risk, a far bigger concern than high cholesterol is inflammation in the body. It has a variety of causes, from gum disease to autoimmune disease. No matter the reason for body-wide inflammation, an inflammation-fighting diet can help.

Since most of you reading this can’t come to my office to learn about your levels of inflammation, I encourage you to see an MDVIP-affiliated physician who can. As part of our annual wellness exam, we measure levels of myeloperoxidase, which can detect cracked, fissured, inflamed plaque in the artery wall that increases even a healthy person’s risk for a heart attack or stroke.

In the meantime, here are three simple things you can do, starting today, to lower your CVD risk by reducing inflammation in your body.

1. Eat more fish. Skip the fried fish, and preferably, focus on oily fish such as salmon. Numerous studies have linked increased fish consumption with decreased risk of CVD. A research review in the journal Nutrients re-confirmed the conclusion that fatty fish can help prevent CVD, largely due to its high levels of inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. The authors also found that lean fish may also have a role in the prevention of CVD. For patients who have inflammation or plaque in their arteries, I also recommend that they take high-quality fish oil supplements.

2. Eat one to two squares of 72% or greater dark chocolate a day. Like fish, dark chocolate has been well studied for its role in CVD. Research in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dark chocolate, when added to healthy lifestyle choices, resulted in decreased inflammation in people with type 2 diabetes.

Another study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, found that low-sugar dark chocolate improved insulin sensitivity, lowered blood pressure, lowed total and LDL cholesterol, and improved flow-mediated dilation (when an artery expands with increased blood flow, which is a good thing) in a group of patients with high blood pressure and impaired glucose tolerance.

3. Get rid of any refined grains and refined-grain products in your house. That includes white bread, white pasta and white rice. A study in The British Journal of Nutrition noted that high consumption of refined grains – which have been stripped of their nutrient-rich exterior – increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease.

By contrast, choosing brown rice over white can reduce CVD risk factors, including inflammation and blood pressure, according to a study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Other things to include in your diet for a healthy heart include leafy greens, which are high in dietary nitrates and antioxidants; fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels; and berries, which are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants.

Finally, talk to your primary care doctor about your diet. Have an open and honest discussion with him or her about what you eat and how much of you eat. They should be able point you to resources to help change how you eat so that you can Be Strong-Hearted.

This blog reflects the medical opinion of Dr. A. Alan Reisinger, MD, FACP, MDVIP affiliate and board chairman. Dr. Reisinger is board certified in Internal Medicine. He graduated from University of Maryland School of Medicine and did his residency at Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore, MD. 

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