In developed countries, where obesity, overeating and over-meating has become the norm, heart disease is the largest cause of death. Past recommendations for preventing heart disease has included eating more fish or supplementing with omega-3 fish oils. Certainly there is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease the risk of a second (or third) heart attack in people who have suffered from a heart attack in the past. We have learned that a high fiber diet may also lower our risk for heart disease. Most of us should aim for at least 25 grams of dietary fiber every day. Most recently, the University of Oxford released a study that shows we can reduce our risk for heart disease by over 30% by adopting a vegetarian lifestyle.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved close to 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland. About one-third of the study participants were vegetarian. Volunteers completed questionnaires relative to their lifestyle and health including diet and exercise, alcohol consumption, and smoking.
Blood pressure and cholesterol levels were measured in about half of the volunteers. After tracking the volunteers over 10-12 years, researchers several interesting markers in vegetarians that lowered their risk for heart disease. First, vegetarians had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. They had fewer incidences of diabetes and lower body mass indices (BMI). These results led researchers to conclude that eating a vegetarian diet lowers the risk for heart disease and death from heart attack.
Here is another key dietary strategy to take into consideration. A recent study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, showed that women who consumed at least three servings of berries (specifically strawberries and/or blueberries) reduce their risk of heart attack by about 33%.
As with any change in your lifestyle it is always important to discuss dietary changes with your healthcare provider. A vegetarian lifestyle is an awesome way to go when you are well informed about your dietary needs. Some individuals may benefit from a modified vegetarian plan where fish is included. In any case, loading up on dark green leafy vegetables and berries is a heart healthy addition to every diet.