How to Support Heart Health and Prevent Heart Disease

Heart disease or cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in developed countries, of which atherosclerosis is the most common type of heart disease.

Heart disease is responsible for ¼ of all deaths, with 17.3 million global deaths each year, expected to rise by over 26% by 2030.

Prevention of heart disease through lifestyle interventions is possible and recommended. Diet plays a crucial role in protecting your heart from risk factors affecting heart health, such as blood pressure, inflammation, and high triglyceride levels. 

Here are dietary and lifestyle changes and supplements to improve your heart health.

1. Healthy Dietary Patterns

Since atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease that contributes to significant incidence and mortality of heart disease, reducing inflammation is crucial in preventing heart disease, and this is proven to be modifiable by nutrition. [1-4] 

Reducing unhealthy food consumption to a minimum can prevent many primary and secondary heart health issues. Although supplementation with specific nutrients can be helpful, it will not replace the benefits of a healthy diet. 

Healthy dietary guidelines include a variety of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, with few, if any, animal products of all types, while avoiding processed foods, sweetened foods and beverages, and refined grains as much as possible. [5-6]

According to a study led by the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, the Mediterranean and vegetarian diets, both rich in plant-based foods, are the most beneficial to cardiovascular health. [7] 

Some foods recognized to be most beneficial to the heart include red apples, avocados, olive oil, walnuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and soybean products, including tofu. These foods are high in vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, unsaturated fats, and antioxidants which play a crucial role in heart health due to their ability to prevent oxidative stress, which places stress on the cardiovascular system. [8] A higher intake of fruits and vegetables has been inversely associated with heart disease risk. [9]

Limiting salt and alcohol intake is also recommended. In a study on the association between alcohol consumption and heart disease, researchers found that less alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of heart-related mortality. [10-15]

Today’s most popular diets, including the ketogenic and paleo diets, are harmful to heart and brain health as they do not support vascular health.

2. Maintaining a Healthy Weight

Losing weight leads to improvements in insulin sensitivity and reduces inflammation. [16]

A healthy diet together with regular exercise are the best combinations for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing obesity. 

Excess energy intake and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to pro-inflammatory mediator secretion leading to inflammation [17].

If you need to lose weight, I strongly recommend joining our Guerrilla Diet 12-week online program proven to be the right way to lose weight and keeping in off for good.

3. Regularly physical activity 

According to a study on physical activity and heart disease risk, overweight and obese individuals have a higher 10-year cardiovascular disease risk than those of average weight. [18] Obesity increases cholesterol levels, causing blood pressure to rise, raising the risk of a heart attack. Obesity also increases inflammation, and obesity may lead to diabetes. According to the AMA (American Heart Association), people with diabetes are two to four times more likely to suffer from heart disease.

Exercise helps weight control and reduces stress levels, which burden the heart by releasing stress hormones. Regular physical activity also reduces inflammation and helps ensure optimal blood flow, which keeps blood pressure at healthy levels and arteries functioning properly. The best kinds of exercise for boosting heart health include aerobic endurance exercises such as walking, running, yoga, swimming, or biking.

4. Stop smoking

Smoking cigarettes has long been associated with all types of heart disease. Various studies have demonstrated the adverse effects of smoking on the heart, including heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, stroke, and acute myocardial infarction (a heart attack). [19] Smoking leads to plaque formation in blood vessels, which may clot and block blood flow meant to be carried to the heart muscles. Furthermore, certain chemicals in cigarettes can increase the thickening of blood inside the arteries and veins and lead to increased cholesterol levels. 

Recommended supplements

Most supplementation trials of individual vitamins or other nutrients among healthy persons do not produce the same magnitudes of risk reduction observed with consuming a high-quality diet. Thus, you should focus your efforts on promoting better overall eating habits with supplementation as a supportive strategy to the dietary changes. 

Furthermore, nutrients from high-dose supplements likely have different effects than those from dietary sources where the vitamins and minerals come together with other beneficial nutrients, including fiber, macronutrients, and bioactive compounds found in the food source, to produce the benefits.

With that said, certain supplements can support the dietary change to a high-fiber plant-based diet and help speed the healing process.

1. Vitamins and Minerals

Deficiency in the antioxidant nutrients zinc, selenium, magnesium, and vitamins C and D lead to a higher heart disease risk. Therefore, the levels of these vitamins should be checked regularly and supplemented when necessary. [20-29]. 

2. Lycopene

Lycopene is a carotenoid found in red-colored fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, watermelons, and papaya. 

Lycopene has many health benefits. Studies show that it may reduce atherosclerotic risk by reducing inflammatory mediators, platelet aggregation, and LDL oxidation and help prevent endothelial dysfunction. [30-33]. 

You can get enough lycopene by consuming raw tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce daily. 

3. Polyphenols – dietary antioxidants

Healthy heart supporting polyphenols are found in fruits (especially berries), vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, green tea, and chocolate and have a wide range of health benefits in preventing heart disease [34-35].

Polyphenols help delay the progression of atherosclerosis, thanks to their anti-inflammatory antioxidant and immune-modulating effects. [36-47]

I recommend consuming a diet rich in polyphenols regularly. However, if you cannot do this momentarily, you may supplement with a broad spectrum food based polyphenol supplement

To conclude

To maintain a healthy heart, dietary adjustment is the most important way to improve heart health. Consume healthy whole foods that are primarily plant-based, rich in polyphenols and high in fiber as mentioned above. You can support your healthy diet with the supplements needed for quicker healing and to support the change to a healthy diet faster.

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Dr. Galit Goldfarb

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