Cardiovascular disease is a growing epidemic in the U.S. and even globally. In a recent presentation it was noted that plant-based diets may reduce risk for cardiovascular events and death.

Think plant foods for a healthy heart

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Cardiovascular disease is a growing epidemic in the U.S. and even globally. In a recent presentation at the National Lipid Association Scientific Studies, Dr. Williams, past president for the American College of Cardiology, noted that plant-based diets may reduce risk for cardiovascular events and death. And, the number one non-medication intervention for cardiovascular disease prevention is diet, something that we have total control over.

What may negatively impact our heart disease risk?

  • Large meals that include big portions – this can cause weight gain
  • Refined grains like white rice, white bread and snack crackers – cause blood glucose spikes
  • Sweet drinks and sugary foods like cookies, candy and cake – cause blood glucose spikes
  • Not enough fruits and vegetables, thus missing the fiber, potassium and antioxidants that produce will naturally provide

These are the dietary protectors from cardiovascular disease:

  • Generous servings each day of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole-grains such as oats, barley, rye and whole-wheat
  • Nuts and other healthy fats such as ground flaxseed, olive oil and avocados

Why does too much dietary sugar have a negative impact on heart disease risk? It will sharply raise blood glucose levels. This results in the pancreas releasing insulin; high levels of insulin can cause vascular damage and inflammation, a perfect set-up for the layering of plaque in the artery walls.

There are several non-medication ways to reduce our risk for vascular disease including regular exercise, being very moderate with alcohol intake, healthy food choices, and being sensible with salt and sodium, meaning fewer processed and convenience foods.

Researchers have found that vegetarian diets can lower weight and blood pressure. But thinking about vegetarian meals can scare some folks off.  Start slowly. For example, have more breakfast menus with whole-grain cereals or toast, nuts and nut butters, and fruit rather than bacon, eggs and or sausage. Enjoy a large salad at lunch topped with walnuts for protein rather than meat. And there is nothing tastier than pasta primavera for dinner made with garden-fresh veggies. No meat required!

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.