Welcome to The Cooking Cardiologist Blog! I write about health, food and cooking from my perspective as a cardiologist (as you can imagine, there’s a lot to know). If you don’t see something you’re interested to know, please ask!
How can the food you eat cause heart disease? I love food, and so do most of us. With so many food options available to us, understanding why certain foods aren’t good for your heart can make choosing the best options easier.
There are three primary, interconnected ways food can cause heart disease:
Now that you know the ways food can contribute to heart disease, here are some steps on how to control the “Big Three,” as I like to call them.
If you control your cholesterol—especially your LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and your triglycerides, your risk for future heart attacks and strokes will plummet. Changing your diet to include foods with little or no cholesterol can have a significant impact on your heart health. If your cholesterol is elevated, it’s important for you to seek medical advice and learn more about your particular risk factors and how to allay them (which may include drugs like statins). But a heart-healthy diet is always part of the plan for controlling cholesterol.
High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard, and the force of the blood flow can damage arteries. We now know that blood pressure can be unhealthy even if it stays just slightly above the “normal” level of 120/80 mmHg.
You probably know that too much salt in the diet can elevate blood pressure, but did you also know that other food choices can also affect blood pressure? The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet research proved that simply eating more fruits and vegetables lowered blood pressure. Better yet was a sodium-independent eating plan low in fat; high in fruits, veggies and whole grains; and rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium. In other words, many food choices affect blood pressure—not just salt. So choose the foods that are known to lower blood pressure.
Chronic, low-level inflammation in the arteries and vascular tissue is now thought to be a significant contributor to cardiovascular disease. Inflammation is regulated by a group of hormones known as prostaglandins, which trigger a series of responses in the body.
The body makes prostaglandins from fatty acids, so the type of fats you do (and don’t!) eat can make a big difference. For example, omega-3 fatty acids—found in fatty fish, flaxseed, canola oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds and walnuts—have anti-inflammatory effects. Omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats—found in safflower, sunflower and corn oils and processed foods containing partially hydrogenated oil—increase inflammation. Herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic also have anti-inflammatory properties, as do most fruits and vegetables. So keep overall fat intake low, but it’s a good idea to increase consumption of foods higher in omega-3 fats.
Remember—eating to control the “Big Three” is one of the goals of heart-healthy cooking, along with loving the food you cook.