We're still celebrating American Heart Month here at Diet-to-Go. where our low-fat and vegetarian meal plans meet the guidelines of the American Heart Association and other major medical organization.
Diet-to-Go chief editor John McGran recently sat down with Janet Bond Brill, author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease (Three Rivers Press), to discuss the ways you can lower your risk of heart disease through diet and a little exercise.
So whether you've had your first heart attack or simply want to eat better for a healthier heart you can't beat this insightful advice from Dr. Brill.
Diet-to-Go: Can you really reverse heart disease simply though diet? How does that work?
Janet Bond Brill: A tremendous amount of scientific research has investigated the application of various diet and exercise plans in preventing further coronary events. I have found that the bulk of the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that post-heart attack patients should be advised to eat a Mediterranean-style diet, be physically active at least 30 minutes a day, and not smoke.
The bulk of the scientific research is crystal clear: a Mediterranean style of eating combined with physical activity is the optimal lifestyle plan for preventing a second heart attack and is far superior to the diet regimens typically prescribed to heart patients in the fat-phobic '90s.
I propose that a Mediterranean-style diet, as outlined in Prevent a Second Heart Attack and backed by powerful evidence, can be even more effective than the eating plans currently recommended by many cardiologists-simply because it tastes good and makes life more enjoyable.
Following vegan-style plans can also reverse heart disease... but only if adhered to-an extremely difficult chore for most Americans.
A Mediterranean diet and walking exercise have both been clinically shown to be excellent medicine for heart patients in terms of reducing progression and promoting regression of atherosclerosis-the root cause of heart disease.
DTG: What are these 8 "miracle foods" that can help us reverse heart disease?
JBB: The "Prevent a Second Heart Attack Plan" uses a two-pronged dietary strategy:
1. Cut out the foods that harm the arteries: Red meat, cream, butter, eggs and cheese
2. Add in the foods that heal the arteries: Extra virgin olive oil, greens and other vegetables, figs and other fruit, lentils and other legumes, salmon and other seafood, walnuts and flaxseeds, oatmeal and other whole grains, and Pinot Noir and other red wine.
DTG: We especially love the sound of your HEART HEALTHY BONUS... dark chocolate! Enlighten us on the benefits.
JBB: Eating a daily sweet treat of deep, dark, sinfully rich chocolate will make a significant contribution to the antioxidant potential of your diet, as dark chocolate has a higher antioxidant quality/quantity than most heavy hitters-red wine, black tea, and green tea.
Consumption of the dark, flavonoid-rich type of chocolate can improve your blood vessel health by increasing your endothelium's production of that crucial blood vessel relaxation chemical nitric oxide, rendering your dysfunctional endothelium (the damaged inner arterial layer that instigates and promotes heart disease progression) healthier and more functional.
In fact, research shows that consuming a small daily dark chocolate treat reduces inflammation and promotes more relaxed and dilated blood vessels, especially if you're diabetic.
Consuming just one or two squares (up to one ounce) of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) every day can help:
And the latest research just found that cocoa intake raises your HDL... the "good" cholesterol!
DTG: What are our favorite foods that are oh, so bad for our arteries -- and is there any room in our diet for them?
JBB: The Prevent a Second Heart Attack Plan consists of removing the plaque-building foods (red meat, cream, butter, eggs and cheese) that cause blood vessel damage and replacing them with delicious anti-inflammatory foods that facilitate the body's natural healing processes to reverse existing heart disease and restore quality of life.
I recommend learning a new way of eating that introduces what will surely become our new favorite foods and will love your heart at the same time!
To combat the confusion issue, the Prevent a Second Heart Attack Plan offers powerful lifesaving advice, translating the complex clinical findings into a simple, easy-to-follow set of guidelines which I call...
(1) no more butter and cream, to be replaced by extra virgin olive oil
(2) no day without greens and other vegetables
(3) no day without figs or other fruit
(4 & 5) no meat (beef, lamb, pork), and replaced by fish and legumes
(6) no day without walnuts and flaxseeds
(7) no day without whole grains and cereals
(8) and moderate alcohol consumption, mainly in the form of red wine, recommended at dinner.
Don't forget the "bonus food"-deep, dark, sinfully rich chocolate!
DTG: I realize fitness is important for my heart, too. But I don't have time or patience for the gym -- what can I do?
JBB: The scientific consensus is that walking is the best exercise prescription for fighting off heart disease. How much, how often, and how fast is detailed in my book.
The best medicine for healing the arteries and reversing heart disease is moderate exercise, and the best exercise for you is the one you will do on a daily basis! No marathons and no gyms required... just get your sneakers on and move!
DTG: I see your book offers a 14-day eating plan. Are the recipes simple enough to work for a kitchen-challenged guy like me?
JBB: Yes. I have three children, a husband and a dog, plus I work inside and outside the home. I don't have the time nor the inclination to spend hours in the kitchen cooking up delicious heart-healthy food so if I can do it... anyone can!
The ingredients are basically fresh and wholesome foods that can be purchased in pretty much any grocery store. And the recipes are simple to prepare.
DTG: Finally, how can this nation reverse its terrifying obesity trend? Are there any promising breakthroughs in the field of heart health?
JBB: Just the slow awakening of the nation to the dire health consequences associated with our current diet and exercise (or lack of) patterns! Knowledge is power and I foresee a backlash similar to the collective consciousness that swept the nation when the health consequences of cigarette smoking finally made it on the public's radar.
For more information, visit PreventaSecondHeartAttack.com
Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RD, LDN, is a diet, nutrition and fitness expert who previously authored Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol In 4 Weeks Without Prescription Drugs. She specializes in cardiovascular disease prevention.