A Mediterranean style of eating combined with physical activity is the optimal lifestyle plan for preventing a second heart attack.
By: Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN
Currently, more than 13 million Americans have either survived a heart attack or been diagnosed with heart disease. As a registered dietitian specializing in cardiovascular disease prevention, I have found that heart attack survivors simply are not following a lifestyle plan that would help them to prevent a second attack. What many of these “survivors” need to know is that a healthy lifestyle and carefully following doctor’s ordersÂ can prevent another heart attack. The problem is that many of these individuals find the “cardiac diet” too restrictive or complicated, and some receive no lifestyle counseling. What’s more, if the heart attack survivor decides to go it alone and purchase a self-help book, he or she may reach for one of the best-selling heart disease reversal books that promote a punishing, “extreme” fringe diet. Most of these books feature Spartan, vegan-style eating plans that are simply too difficult to follow and frankly are just not livable. Why should heart attack survivors be punished further with the burden of tasteless, low-fat plans when there is a better way? You can prevent new plaque buildup and even reverse or stabilize dangerous, vulnerable plaque in their coronary arteries with a delightfully palatable lifestyle strategy where they can still enjoy the good things in life.
What exactly are the best lifestyle changes – -Â alongside drugs – -Â for preventing a second heart attack and even reversing heart disease?
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 thirty minutes a day, and not smoke. In fact, the famed Lyon Heart Study that tested a Cretan Mediterranean diet in cardiac patients reported a phenomenal reduction of recurrence rate of 70 percent compared to the control diet (a typical low-fat Western-style diet). Thus, the bulk of the scientific research is crystal clear:Â 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 low-fat vegetarian diet regimens typically prescribed to heart patients in the fat-phobic ’90s (and that continue to line bookstore shelves today). I propose that a Mediterranean-style diet can be even more effective than the eating plans currently recommended by many cardiologists – -Â simply because it tastes good and makes life more enjoyable. Following vegan-style plans can also reverse heart disease but only if adhered to – -Â an extremely difficult chore for most Americans.
Is heart disease really reversible?
Yes. Studies published in leading medical journals have shown that following a healthy lifestyle combined with physician-prescribed medications – -Â can stabilize and even reverse vulnerable plaque.
Can I eat red meat?
My plan consists of removingÂ the plaque- building foods (red meat, cream, butter, eggs, and cheese) that cause blood vessel damage and replacing them with deliciousÂ anti-inflammatory foods that facilitate the body’s natural healing processes to reverse existing heart disease and restore quality of life. Here isÂ simple, easy-to-follow set of guidelines: (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. (Plus a bonus food – -Â deep, dark, sinfully rich chocolate!)
What is the best exercise for my heart?
The scientific consensus is that walking is the best exercise prescription for fighting off heart disease. 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!
What makes your plan so different and easier to follow than some of the other heart disease reversal plans on the market?
Many of the best-selling plans advise avoiding fish; any and all kinds of oil; avocado; nuts; seeds, and chocolate–delightfully tasty foods–all advocated in my plan.
Can I really begin to heal my arteries in just 8 weeks?
Clinical research has shown a significant reduction in the rate of secondary events in post-heart attack subjects switching to a Mediterranean-style diet–in as little as 6 weeks.
What about protein–where do I get my protein from?
My plan urges you to become a “vegaquarium.” By getting your protein from the earth and the sea, you will also be fueling your body with numerous additional nutrients that fortify your daily heart disease defense system–artery healing components not found in a Western-style diet high in animal protein.
Can I drink coffee and tea?
The Prevent a Second heart Attack plan is a plant-based diet. Both coffee and tea are made from plants–and plants contain plaque-fighting phytonutrients. So yes, you can have coffee and tea.
What about supplements?
Not all supplements are created equally when it comes to treating and reversing plaque buildup. Three stand out among the crowd and should be in every heart attack survivor’s medicine chest: Niacin; Vitamin D3; Fish oil.
About the Author:
Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN, author ofÂ Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease,is a diet, nutrition, and fitness expert who has appeared on national television.Â She is the author ofÂ Cholesterol Down: 10 Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol In 4 Weeks Without Prescription Drugs, and specializes in cardiovascular disease prevention.Â Dr. Brill lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children.
Photo: Inside heart