It’s important to remember that the risk of heart disease increases with age. And, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in almost all areas of the world. As we age, our diet choices may prove critical in preventing heart disease. That doesn’t mean, of course, that younger segments can afford to ignore the link between nutrition and heart disease. In fact, healthy eating habits should be a life-long practice if you want to live a full and healthy life.
Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Disease
We have mentioned both heart disease and cardiovascular disease in an earlier post. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a clear medical distinction between the two.
- Heart disease refers to conditions specifically affecting your heart. This includes blood vessel diseases (such as coronary artery disease), heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) and congenital heart defects you were born with.
- Cardiovascular disease refers to conditions that narrow or block blood vessels. They can lead to a heart attack, angina (chest pain) or stroke.
The wide variety and significantly different causes of heart conditions represent a considerable challenge for diagnosis. Because of this, steps taken for prevention and treatment will vary in their effectiveness.
What We Control — and Don’t Control
Eating habits and diet are key choices in preventing heart problems, partly because other factors are not within our control. For example, the aging process itself, gender (men are more susceptible), family history (genetic make-up), and birth defects all contribute significantly to the risk of heart conditions. But, we have no control over these factors.
Among factors that we do control, in addition to eating habits and diet, are exercise, stress, sleep, and good hygiene. It’s estimated that as much as 90% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented by healthy eating. Be aware that risk factors such as obesity and alcohol consumption may or may not be included under “healthy eating.”
Nutrition and Dietary Habits
Below, we discuss how dietary choices can translate into long-term benefits in patients with heart and/or cardiovascular disease. In fact, nutrition can be combined with treatment options to reduce risk. It can be an important adjunct to medical treatment.
- In the most general terms, a diet with high amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, and salt — and relatively few fruits, vegetables, and fish — contributes to a high risk for heart disease. By all indications, the exact role of each dietary factor has yet to be fully determined. But, there’s little doubt about the overall pattern.
- Trans fat or trans-unsaturated fatty acids is one type of unsaturated fat. It occurs naturally in meat and milk. It can also be found in snack foods, packaged baked goods, and fast food. If your intake of trans fat is high, it can put you at greater risk of inflammation, which leads to such conditions as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.
- So-called high-energy foods may be high in fats and sugars. Subsequently, they may increase our risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Replacing these saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (plant-based oils) reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by an estimated 17%.
More Considerations About Diet
- Too much salt in the diet has long been known as a prime contributor of hypertension (high blood pressure) and a factor in cardiovascular risk. One significant source of excess salt is processed meats generally sold at delis.
- We have read much in recent years about alcohol consumption and heart disease. The key factor is the amount consumed. Therefore, binging can translate directly into a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Drinking less (and less frequently) may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
In addition to diet and nutrition, of course, the quantity of food you eat can affect your risk of heart problems. Overeating, which may lead to obesity, greatly increases our risk of heart disease.
David York Supports New Research on Nutrition and Heart Disease
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