Best Diet For Heart Diseases & Healthcare - Mediterranean Diet (2021)
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and costs our healthcare system around $219 billion per year (1). There are many factors that can increase your risk for heart disease such as smoking, high cholesterol and blood pressure levels, diabetes, weight, and physical activity. The United States is known for the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) which is high in saturated fat, salt, added sugars, and excess carbs. Coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, the excess consumption of processed foods on the SAD diet can contribute to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain. However, through preventative healthcare, such as nutrition counseling, early screening for diseases, and encouraging activities that promote wellness, the long-run costs associated with illnesses can be decreased.
Preventative healthcare is becoming ever-more important as the costs of illnesses continue to skyrocket. Instead of treating a health problem that is already present, preventative healthcare focuses on avoiding the onset of a disease by focusing on habits that are achievable and sustainable in the long-term, such as exercise and diet. There are two types of preventative healthcare, primary and secondary, and we’ll define both. Primary prevention is taking action to prevent yourself from getting a disease while secondary prevention is detecting a disease early and preventing it from getting worse (2). Examples of secondary prevention include blood glucose and cholesterol tests, and these levels are related to diet.
Mediterranean Diet vs. Low Fat Diet
Different diets can be followed to prevent heart disease, but not all diets have the same effect. The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in primary/secondary prevention in high-risk patients. Compared to a reduced fat diet, participants who followed an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet, supplemented with Extra Virgin Olive Oil or nuts, had a lower rate of major cardiovascular events than those assigned to a reduced-fat diet in the PREDIMED study (3). In fact, “the largest and longest [low-fat] studies show only minimal reductions in weight and no effects on heart disease or cancer risk” (4). It’s clear we don’t have to restrict fat to prevent cardiovascular disease. Which is good because we need fats to protect our organs and provide us a source of energy. We do, however, need to be aware and mindful of the types of fats we’re consuming. Compared to unhealthy trans and saturated fats, Olive Oil, an important ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, contains healthy monounsaturated fats which can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. For high-risk patients, the Mediterranean diet is a great form of preventative healthcare.
Even if you are at low-risk for cardiovascular disease, a Mediterranean diet can still benefit you by decreasing the likelihood of the onset of heart disease. In the CARDIVEG study, participants who followed a Mediterranean diet compared to those who followed a vegetarian diet had decreased triglyceride levels (5). High levels of triglycerides are dangerous because they can clog your arteries and lead to cardiovascular events such as a heart attack. The best way to lower triglycerides is to opt for Healthy Fats Like Olive Oil.
All in all, following the Mediterranean diet is a great way to protect your heart and prevent high healthcare costs in the long run.
Looking for recipes with olive oil? Check out this Beet and Citrus Salad with an olive oil and red wine vinaigrette. Using olive oil in cooking is great for your heart health.
Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio.
Written by Megan Huff
Image Credit: pexels.com/ @polina-tankilevitch
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the major differences between the Mediterranean diet and a low fat diet?
A: The Mediterranean diet focuses on daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy (unsaturated) fats as a lifestyle diet, while the low fat diet focuses on restricting the amount and sources of fats consumed overall in one's diet.
Q: How does overconsumption of saturated fats in my diet lead to heart diseases?
A: Too much saturated fats will raise your LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels in your blood vessels, which make your arteries harden with plaques and eventually narrow your arteries.
Q: What is the difference between healthy (unsaturated) fats and unhealthy (saturated) fats?
A: Healthy fats are often referred to as unsaturated fats and can be divided into monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are usually from plant sources and saturated fats are usually from animal sources.