Decrease your risk of dying from heart disease

Eating more produce is the key, studies say

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Everyone knows the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but could consuming more servings of produce actually decrease your risk of dying from heart disease?

Although one apple a day is certainly a good start, the latest research suggests that higher fruit and vegetable intake helps decrease your risk of death from heart disease. One study found that each additional serving of fruits and vegetables cut heart disease death by 4 percent. This means that getting 5 servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis may decrease your chance of dying from heart disease by 20 percent! Continue reading

The Mediterranean diet: the gold standard for heart-healthy eating

May is National Mediterranean Diet Month

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Extra virgin olive oil in the diet has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease

Are you looking for the most “heart-healthy” meal plan?

For years, the recommended diet to prevent heart disease was a low-fat diet. Then, as research began to reveal the negative effects of sugar and refined carbohydrates — often included in low-fat meals — many people turned to a low-carb diet. But low-carb does not necessarily mean “healthy.”

Now, more and more evidence points to a traditional Mediterranean meal plan as one of the healthiest eating patterns. A study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2/25/2013), shows that a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease by 30 percent in people at high risk for heart disease.

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Add fresh herbs for great flavor and heart-healthy benefits

Get onboard with basil

herbs blogFresh herbs add great flavor to a variety of dishes and are a wonderful complement to a Mediterranean-style eating plan. Adding herbs to recipes also eliminates the need for salt. A low-sodium diet may help improve blood pressure, thus reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Herbs also provide healthy antioxidants and, if you grow them yourself, will be at peak quality for your favorite recipes.

We’ll take a look at several different herbs in the coming months, starting today with basil. Be sure to check back often to learn more about herbs and how they can be used in specific recipes.

The benefits of basil

If you’re excited to get your herb garden started, begin by planting basil seeds indoors in early to mid-April. The plants can be transplanted outdoors when the temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night. Because it is sensitive to cooler temperatures, basil is an annual herb in Michigan. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, frequent care through pruning will result in greater production of leaves. Continue reading

Is red meat unhealthy for your heart?

U-M healthcare providers weigh in on study showing connection between red meat and heart failure

meat blogA study out of Cleveland Clinic, recently reported in Journal of the American College of Cardiology, seems to answer the question “Is red meat unhealthy for your heart?”–until you look a little more closely. The study found a strong association between TMAO (trimethylamine oxidase) and severity of heart failure, including an increased risk of death in patients with high TMAO levels. TMAO is a digestion byproduct of bacteria that can live in peoples’ intestines, and has previously been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Foods such as red meat and eggs are the most common sources of TMAO in the diet.

A look at the study

Some who read this study might be quick to say that heart failure patients should eat less red meat and eggs. However, since the authors did not look at food intake, it is difficult say for sure how TMAO levels in this study related to the dietary patterns of the patients. Some researchers believe that the walls of the intestine become ‘leaky’ when severe heart failure causes fluid congestion there. These leaky walls could let bacteria or their byproducts, like TMAO, into the bloodstream to cause problems. While patients with high TMAO levels in this study were on average older and sicker, most did not appear to have truly severe heart failure. Continue reading

Saturated fats and heart health

Are saturated fats on or off the naughty list?

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While the health community debates the role saturated fat plays in heart disease, patients and consumers are once again faced with the struggle of determining what nutrition recommendations to follow. Most health professionals, however, agree that your overall eating habits and lifestyle play a greater role in maintaining heart health than individual nutrients alone.

A traditional perspective

In the 2013 Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) state, “Historically, the role of dietary components has been the predominant focus; however, foods are typically consumed in combinations rather than individually.” They also found strong evidence that a dietary pattern limiting  saturated fat to 5-6 percent of total calories significantly lowers LDL-cholesterol, the type of blood cholesterol that promotes heart disease. The new guidelines recommend dietary patterns that include vegetables, fruits and whole grains; low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts; and limits intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats. These patterns are naturally low in saturated fat. Continue reading

Salt and high blood pressure

What to make of conflicting studies

Salt_CVCBlog_450x320General nutrition recommendations about salt, or sodium, continue to cause a stir among health professionals and in the media. The question about salt intake is no exception, leaving many people wondering: Is there really a link between consuming salt and high blood pressure?

Why limit sodium?

A substantial body of evidence links higher intakes of salt with high blood pressure (hypertension), which increases risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. The DASH-Sodium trial demonstrated that as sodium intake decreased, blood pressure decreased. The most significant decrease in blood pressure was seen at a sodium intake of 1500 mg/day, especially among hypertensive patients.

So why did a recent report disagree with the guidelines?

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released the report “Sodium Intake in Populations: Assessment of Evidence”, which continues to advise against high sodium intake, but states that there is insufficient evidence to lower intake to 1500 mg/day. However, a science advisory from the American Heart Association documented several methodological errors in each of the studies included in the IOM report. According to the AHA, systematic measurement errors, high levels of random error, insufficient statistical power and other factors likely contribute to the inconsistency of evidence. Continue reading