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Diet Heart Health

Too Many Heart Healthy Diet Options

I am currently reading a book about heart-healthy diets, and the week prior, I finished a book giving nearly the opposite advice. With so much research and diet experts, it’s normal to have too many heart-healthy diet options.

I don’t believe that there is one correct diet option out there. That’s the wrong way to approach this health topic.

Heart Healthy Diet Options

There is the ketogenic diet which is quite popular in 2022. Before that, it was the low-carb diet and the Paleo diet.

Low-fat was the craze during all of my medical training from the late 90s into the early 2000s.

There is the vegan diet and whole plant-based diet, and the Mediterranean diet. And oil-free versions of each of these.

Focusing on how these diets are different is counterproductive. There is more value in teasing out what they have in common.

Even more critical, which individuals benefit from which diets? An individualized approach is often superior to population-based medicine.

Individualized Approach

Even some whole grains and organic fruit might tip them over if I have a highly insulin-resistant patient.

A ketogenic diet is the right solution for these individuals, perhaps for a short period of time. Eventually, like all of us, a person has to learn to eat intuitively instead of following a diet.

Some can stick to a particular diet. But inherently, diets have little wiggle room, which leads to a high dropout rate. And their long-term results tend to drop off after the first few years.

A patient with very active Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) will not do well with a high-fiber diet. And the patient with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) won’t help their kidneys with a high-protein diet.

Food & Heart Health

I don’t focus on just the heart in my heart health coaching practice. If I achieve optimal cardiovascular health through a heart-healthy diet option but ignore the liver or brain, I will have failed the individual.

A diet ideal for the cardiovascular system will minimize insulin resistance, offer the right amount of dietary fats, and decrease inflammation.

Controlling inflammation might be more critical depending on where you are on your heart health journey. Later in your journey, decreasing peripheral resistance may be more critical.

What The Diets Have in Common

Heart-healthy diet options often have sustainability and high nutrient content in common.

Such diets offer the right macros to the individual without exacerbating any particular disease condition.

Few of these diets will provide excess calories, and the food sources are among the highest quality. Even if you are averse to the term “organic,” the foods in these diets are often grown in a way that requires fewer antibiotics and pesticides.

These diets have hardly any processed oils, fats, sugars, or proteins. Some will recommend adding coconut oil, olive oil, or butter, but that’s generally as processed as it gets.

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Diet Heart Health

Vegan vs. Whole Plant-Based Diets

There is no one diet to prevent or treat cardiovascular disease. Each person will benefit from an individualized approach. But I am asked about vegan vs. whole plant-based diets and wanted to address it here.

A plant-based approach isn’t the only way to achieve heart health but for those who want to cut animal products out this article is relevant.

Vegan Diet

Veganism is more of a religion than a diet. It’s a way of life for many where their aim is to minimize human and animal suffering.

Vegans also eat a plant-based diet but often have a high-carb and high-fat version. Not always, but easy to overdo it with vegan cheese and fake friend meats.

Most vegan restaurants serve highly processed foods. And vegan items in the grocery store aim to mimic a western diet, so there are a lot of oily and meat-looking items for sale.

Processed food is the enemy of heart health. And so, most vegan options tend to perform poorly regarding cardiovascular health.

Whole Plant-Based Diet

A whole plant-based diet is much more heart-friendly because it focuses on nutrients. Most whole plant-based food options are nutrient-dense and, by definition, not processed.

Hummus – sesame seeds, garbanzo beans, lemon, salt – that’s a whole plant-based food. But the version you buy in the grocery store often has many more processed items. Often, it’s loaded with oil to increase the calorie content.

A white flour tortilla is vegan but not healthy. But a 100% whole wheat tortilla (ground whole wheat grains, water, salt) is relatively healthy.

But grains or gluten-containing products aren’t right for everyone. That’s why I maintain that there is no perfect diet for everyone. It’s per individual.

Olive Oil

Inevitably the discussion next goes to olive oil when we compare vegan diets to whole plant-based diets.

The latter has no place for olive oil. But vegan food is often saturated with oils. For some, this isn’t an issue. For many, the extra oil can accelerate atherosclerosis.

Olive oil has some health properties, but like any good thing, it can raise cholesterol levels. This could (not will, but could) increase the risk of plaque deposits on the lining of the arteries.

Heart Healthy Diets

In my practice, we experiment with different foods and have items we cut out right off the bat.

If the cholesterol profile responds well and the inflammatory markers go down, we continue to make small adjustments.

To achieve heart health, I wouldn’t worry about olive oil. I would first worry about a diet with processed food ingredients – many ingredients you can’t pronounce or items you don’t recognize.

Exercise, stress management, minimally processed diet, and insulin management. Those are the most important tenets of achieving good cardiovascular health.

We dive into the diet in much more detail for those who still need tweaking. For one person, there is an absolute need for fish oil. For another, they have to cut out beans because of the inflammation it causes.

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