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Sometimes, uncontrollable or hard-to-control health factors can contribute to the development of heart disease, like:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Viral infections
  • Necessary medical treatment, including chemotherapy

Other, more controllable risk factors for developing heart disease can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Drug and alcohol consumption
  • Tobacco use

If you are at an uncontrollable risk of developing heart disease, it is possible to stay on top of the controllable factors to keep your heart as healthy and free from disease as possible.

But what if you have already developed heart disease? Can a change in diet help reverse your condition, or is it too late? Whether uncontrollable factors have caused your heart disease or it has developed from controllable factors, healthy lifestyle changes—including a shift in your diet—can help prevent further damage or even reverse its effects and restore some of your heart health.

What Is Heart Disease?

There are several types of heart disease that can affect your heart and lead to dangerous complications or cause life-threatening events. Types of heart disease include:

  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) – The most common form of heart disease, CAD develops when plaque builds up on the walls of the arteries and causes them to become hardened or narrowed, which can lead to chest pains, breathing troubles, heart attacks, and cardiac arrest. Patients can develop CAD due to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and tobacco use.
  • Arrhythmia – Arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, can be caused by certain conditions, including genetics, cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), and high blood pressure. Whether the heart beats too fast, slow, or irregularly, the patient can experience dangerous effects such as stroke, cardiac arrest, or heart failure.
  • Heart Failure – Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood well enough to keep up with the body’s circulation needs. Heart failure is most commonly an effect of CAD, but it can also stem from high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and other medical conditions.
  • Cardiomyopathy – Cardiomyopathy is a disease affecting the heart muscle and can cause it to stretch, thicken, or become stiff. Changes to the heart muscle will interfere with its ability to pump blood correctly. Causes of cardiomyopathy can include genetic issues, excessive drug use or alcohol consumption, viral infections, or even chemotherapy treatments.
  • Heart Valve Disease – The heart has four valves that direct blood flow into the heart, through its four chambers, and out to the blood vessels. If there is a malfunction with any of the valves, patients can experience a blockage, pooling in the heart, and other dangerous complications. Causes of heart valve disease include CAD, high blood pressure, or certain viral infections. It can also result from the damage of a heart attack.

How Does Diet Play a Role in Developing Heart Disease?

What we eat has one of the greatest effects—if not the greatest effect—on our health, especially our heart health.

The human body thrives on healthy foods that are from the earth—fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and legumes—and are lean in fat content—fresh and saltwater seafood, poultry, lamb, certain cuts of beef, and certain cuts of pork.

On the other hand, we tend to see and feel the adverse effects of diets that are low in nutrients and too high in sodium, refined sugar, refined flours, and saturated and trans fats. A poor diet filled with such ingredients is often a direct contributor to the development of unhealthy conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and even type 2 diabetes, which are all factors in developing certain forms of heart disease, like coronary artery disease.

Nutrition can be complex, and a diet that works well for one patient may not be suitable for another. But this simple fact still remains: the healthier your food choices are, the healthier your body (and heart) will be. And it may seem obvious, but the more unhealthy your food choices are, the more unhealthy your body (and heart) will be.

Can a Change in Diet Really Reverse the Effects of Heart Disease?

The short answer is yes, it can! By avoiding the foods that help contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or type 2 diabetes and reaching for veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats instead, you may be able to reverse the effects of heart disease or at least prevent your condition from worsening. Healthier diets can lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol, promote weight loss, and have even been proven to reverse type 2 diabetes in some patients.

While our Western food culture can make it difficult to avoid what is considered harmful and stick to the healthier, more natural options, you should make a concerted effort to shift from more damaging diets to healthier ones, especially if you have developed or are at risk of developing heart disease.

What Are the Best Diets to Follow if You Have Developed Heart Disease?

The Mediterranean diet and plant-based diets are highly effective at helping patients improve or reverse their heart disease.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet incorporates a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. It also includes a moderate amount of seafood and poultry and a small amount of red meats and dairy products.

An easy way to think about your plate breakdown for a Mediterranean diet is:

  • 50% low-starch vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, artichoke, eggplant, etc.)
  • 25% carbohydrates (whole grains, legumes, starchy veggies)
  • 25% protein (fish, poultry, eggs)

Examples of What You Can Eat on the Mediterranean Diet and How Often

Veggies – Daily

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Fruits – Daily

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Berries
  • Cherries
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Grapefruit
  • Melons
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Plums
  • Pomegranates
  • Prunes

Starches – Daily

  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Brown rice
  • Bulgar
  • Chickpeas
  • Couscous (whole grain)
  • Farro
  • Lentils
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Pasta (whole grain)
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat (whole grain)

Nuts and Seeds – Daily

  • Almonds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pine nuts
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts

Oils, Herbs, and Spices – Daily

  • Olive oil
  • Fish oils
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Saffron
  • Sage
  • Thyme

Proteins – 2x or 3x per Week

  • Lean fish and seafood
  • Lean poultry
  • Eggs
  • Tofu

Dairy Products – 1x – 2x per Week

  • Cottage cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Goat cheese
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Mediterranean yogurt
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Tzatziki sauce
  • Skim milk

Proteins – 1x or 2x per Month

  • Lean red meats

Examples of What to Avoid on the Mediterranean Diet

  • Alcohol (except moderate amounts of wine)
  • Butter
  • Excessive amounts of salt
  • Fried foods
  • Processed foods with added sugars, saturated fats, and refined grains
  • Processed meats
  • Sweets
  • Whole-fat dairy

Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diets

Whole-food, plant-based diets are pretty easy to follow—if it comes out of the ground (like a plant), it’s fair game. And if it’s made from whole foods and has not been processed or heavily processed, it’s fair game. Avoid it if it’s an animal product (like meat, eggs, cheese, or honey) or contains animal by-products (like gelatin or casein).

The food groups of a plant-based diet include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables (including root vegetables)
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Tofu

Other Considerations Regarding Your Heart Health

Your diet is not the only contributing factor to maintaining a healthy heart or reversing the effects of heart disease, although it plays a huge part. It is also important to protect your heart health by:

  • Maintaining physical activity
  • Avoiding or quitting smoking
  • Avoiding or stopping excessive alcohol consumption
  • Reducing stress

Want to Know More About How Your Diet Can Improve Your Heart Health and Reverse Heart Disease? Schedule an Appointment With Middle Georgia Heart.

Our cardiologists understand the importance of healthy choices and how your diet can harm or help your heart. We’ll be glad to share beneficial tips and advice for improving your diet and making the changes you need to make to avoid heart disease or restore your heart health. Schedule an appointment with our team today! 478-207-5224.

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