Eight million women in the U.S. live with cardiovascular disease. That’s one in every four women. And heart disease claims the lives of half a million women every year. That’s approximately one death each minute — more than all types of cancer-related deaths combined.
Of all women who die from heart disease, 64 percent had no symptoms. It’s no mystery that cardiovascular disease is called the “silent killer.”
Research shows that the best diet for heart health is the Mediterranean diet. An analysis of more than 1.5 million adults showed that following a Mediterranean diet contributed to a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
“We know that saturated and trans fats cause cholesterol to build up in arteries and cause blockages, which can lead to heart attack and stroke, and that sodium contributes to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease,” says Lynne’ Schatzlein, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in cardiovascular care and works as an inpatient clinical dietitian at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
“A plant-based diet and eating foods that are high in antioxidants and fiber protect the heart by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, and by preventing oxidative damage to the heart and blood vessels.”
Integrating the Mediterranean diet into your life
Named for incorporating foods typically enjoyed by people who live in Greece, Spain and southern Italy, the Mediterranean diet includes:
- Fruits at every meal
- Vegetables at every meal
- Whole grains at every meal
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Fish twice a week
- A handful of nuts each day
- A small glass of red wine a couple of times a week
The Mediterranean diet encourages consumption of monounsaturated fats — the kind found in foods such as avocados and nuts — which are not only good for the heart, but also for the skin. The Mediterranean diet also suggests using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor food; limiting red meat consumption to a few times a month; and replacing butter with healthy alternatives like olive oil.
“One of the best things about the Mediterranean diet is that it can be enjoyed by the entire family, even kids, so special, separate meals aren’t necessary,” explains Schatzlein.
If you are concerned about your heart health or the health of a loved one, talk to your doctor. If a change in diet is called for, a registered dietitian or nutritionist can help incorporate the Mediterranean diet to fight the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve overall wellness.