Healthy heart diet
Recommendations for people with heart disease
A healthy diet is essential for healthy heart function, energy and wellbeing. In consultations with patients on our Integrative Cardiac Wellness Program we discuss aspects of diet that have been proven to be of benefit for people with heart disease.
Research has shown that a Mediterranean style diet protects against coronary heart disease and reduces cardiovascular risks, as well as the incidence of heart attacks. This diet has been studied in many research trials and is based on the traditional diet of the Mediterranean region, where there is very low incidence of coronary heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet is high in complex (unprocessed) carbohydrates from legumes and high in fibre, mostly from vegetables and fruits. It is low in saturated fat (‘bad' fats) and high in monounsaturated fat (‘good' fats), mainly from olive oil. The high content of vegetables, fresh fruits, cereals and olive oil guarantees a good intake of various beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Olive oil is particularly characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. It contains a very high level of monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, which is linked to a reduction in coronary heart disease risk. There is also evidence that the antioxidants in olive oil reduce the production of LDL (‘bad') cholesterol and have anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects.
Frequent consumption of fish is also characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. Research has proven that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in deep sea fish, walnuts and linseeds, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease due to their cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, and anti-arrhythmic properties.
The key messages of the Mediterranean diet are:
- High consumption of fish, especially oily fish (ideally 4 times a week)
- High intake of vegetables and fruits (ideally 5-7 different vegetables each day, in a rainbow of colours) and legumes
- High consumption of virgin olive oil
- Unrefined carbohydrates, such as legumes (eg lentils, kidney beans) and whole grains like brown rice and wholemeal bread
- Moderate consumption of meat and saturated fats
- Moderate consumption of dairy (or goats' milk) products, ideally in the form of cheese or yogurt
- Maximum of four eggs per week
- Nuts as snacks (especially walnuts and almonds)
- Maximum of 1-2 small glasses of wine a day (preferably red wine for the antioxidants it contains), ideally consumed with the main meal