When seeking to improve one’s cardiac health and well being, a primary avenue that many individuals initially consider undertaking is an increase in adherence to exercise programs focused on aerobic and/or circuit training. It has been shown that as little as thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (ie. running, skipping, etc.) at least five days a week can help to promote and maintain one’s overall health. (1) When assessing fitness level however, a critical area that is sometimes overlooked is one’s personal nutrition and dietary choices. In the “highly processed, calorie-dense, nutrient-depleted” North American diet, we are seeing more and more that what we decide to put into our bodies in just as important as what we sweat out with regards to cardiac health. (2)
When analyzing the effects of food consumption on a person’s cardiac health, we must acknowledge that there is a double-pronged approach; the food we eat can be analyzed either in terms of how much we eat (quantity) or the actual nutritional value of the food (quality). (3) According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research Service (USDARS) in the early 2000’s, it appeared that the average North American was failing on both accounts and was eating elevated amounts of foods that are known to increase the risk of being susceptible to Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) (4).
In turn, the drastic increase in the consumption of these food products has led to “exaggerated supraphysiological post-prandial spikes in blood glucose and lipids.” In other words, after consuming meals rich in these foods, the equilibrium that exists in our blood serum is drastically thrown off, more than previously thought. While one’s blood serum is in this state of elevated glucose and lipid content (referred to as dysemtabolism,) it can further induce high oxidant stress, abnormal inflammation, and hypercoagulability, again raising the risk of developing CVD related issues (2).
Of all the highly consumed products found in a typical North American diet, a curious case is found with the consumption of alcohol and its correlation to CVD as well. According to research conducted by Dr. James O’Keefe in 2007, alcohol has been categorized as a “Double-Edged Sword,” showing both positive and negative effects of heart health; On the one hand, it has been proven that casual “light to moderate drinking done on a daily basis” may surprisingly reduce the risks associated with insulin action, inflammation, atherosclerosis, High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol, and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). On the other hand however, “excessive alcohol intake and binge drinking are toxic” to heart health and is actually the third leading cause of premature death among Americans (5).
As stated by Monique Verschuren in her article Diet and Cardiovascular Disease, “ [i]t is clear that dietary modifications should form the basis for CVD prevention;” By making simple changes in one’s diet, such as by eating more fruits & veggies, choosing ‘white meat’ like fish as a substitute for traditional ‘red meat’ options (ie beef burgers, hot dogs, etc), increasing one’s overall fiber intake, and having only one cold beer a night, not only will you be safer from developing CVD and its related symptoms, but in addition, “a healthy diet also reduces the risk of a number of other chronic diseases such as cancer” (3). These changes in one’s diet could also help to induce weight loss, where decreases ranging from five to ten percent (especially by reducing abdominal adiposity) can reduce the risk of CVD significantly, and leave you looking and feeing better about yourself as well (2). Aside from a casual beer, it has also been proven that possibly complementing it with “deeply pigmented” foods and drinks rich in antioxidants (such as dark chocolate, tea, and/or a glass of red wine) also help to prevent oxidant stress and inflammation the vascular endothelium (2). In general, it has also been recommended as well to create for one’s self a dietary framework that mimics the highly nutrient-dense/low caloric density of the Mediterranean and Okinawan diets—tofu humus wrap anyone?…
(1) Haskell, W. L., Lee, I-M., Pate, R. R., Powell, K. E., Blair, S. N., Franklin, B. A., … Bauman, A. (2007). Physical activity and public health: Updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation, 116(9), 1081-1093.
(2) O’Keefe JH, Gheewala NM, O’Keefe JO. Dietary Strategies for Improving Post-Prandial Glucose, Lipids, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Health. J Am Coll Cardiol.2008;51(3):249-255. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2007.10.016.
(3) Verschuren, Monique (2012). Lipid Abnormalities and Cardiovascular Prevention: Diet and Cardiovascular Disease. Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2012
(4) The USDA Factbook: Profiling Food Consumption in America. 2001-2002. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture. http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf
(5) James H. O’Keefe, Kevin A. Bybee, Carl J. Lavie, Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health: The Razor-Sharp Double-Edged Sword, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Volume 50, Issue 11, 11 September 2007, Pages 1009-1014, ISSN 0735-1097, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2007.04.089.(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109707020074)