Rethink Your Plate to Improve Heart Health

If your doctor asked you if you would like to try out a medicine to lower your risk of dying from heart disease by over 30% and at the same time lower your risk of dying from ANY cause by 25%?  What if this medicine also lowered your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and any other cardiovascular disease? How about if the bonus was there were absolutely no side effects from this medicine except that you would feel lots of energy, improve your sleep and mental clarity, reduce stress levels and turn back the clock on aging? Would you be wanting desperately to have that medicine? Most of us would answer yes so I’m sure you are thinking there must be some catch to this deal. No catch, just some small steps you can take every day to reap the benefits and improve heart health.

Here’s the deal simply stated: Eat more plant-based foods, eat less animal derived foods.

A new study released August 7, 2019 found that eating mostly plant-based foods and fewer animal derived foods is better for your heart health and lowers your risk of dying from a heart attack, stroke or some other kind of cardiovascular disease as well as your risk of dying from any other cause.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death globally according to the World Health Organization. Does this mean you need to become a vegetarian or vegan eater and completely cut out your favorite meats and animal products? No.

It means that by simply reducing your intake of animal derived foods you can lengthen your life by improving your health and lowering your risk of dying from heart disease or risk of dying from any other cause.

Study Snapshot: This was a large study that looked at 10,000 middle-aged US adults and monitored them for 29 years.

This is what they found:

The people who ate the most plant-based foods overall had a:

  • 16% lower risk of having a cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and other conditions;
  • 32% lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease
  • 25% lower risk of dying from any cause compared to those who ate the least amount of plant-based foods.

You might ask “How does this happen?” Why does eating a more plant based diet improve heart health and overall health and reduce the risk of dying?

Changing over to a more plant-based diet helps with heart health in a few ways. Plant based foods are higher in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and important nutrients like potassium and magnesium and they don’t contain saturated unhealthy fats found in animal products. Eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to lower inflammation, better blood pressure and artery health, as well as a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, lower body weight and BMI, better gut function and health which improves immunity and mood.

Small Steps to help eat less animal-derived foods: Let’s look at some ways to help you transition in a small step way. A good place to start is to take a look at your typical plate of food. How do you arrange your plate of food? Is it mostly meat/chicken/fish and a lot of rice/pasta/potatoes alongside (maybe) a meager amount of some sort of cooked veggie? If this sounds like your typical plate of food, then you may want to consider redecorating that plate.

Tip 1: Fill half your plate with vegetables at BOTH lunch and dinner. Make it colorful- every color gives you a different source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and nutrients.  (Read Rolling Strong Blog: Eat the Rainbow) Have a mid-morning, mid-afternoon and pre-dinner snack of raw carrots, celery, peppers, string beans, snap peas or any other veggie with hummus, salsa, or healthy fat guacamole (skip the ranch and packaged, bottled dressings).

Tip 2: Animal derived foods become a side dish instead of the main course. This is an easy way to transition. You don’t have to give up your favorite animal products- just moderate them.  Eat a smaller portion and make sure it is a ‘healthy’ version of an animal product. That means organic, grass-fed meats, and wild fish like wild salmon that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Skip the fried meats, poultry and fish as well as nitrate filled, sodium laden processed foods like bacon, sausage or cold cuts

Tip 3: Make a big salad as your main dish: Fill your bowl with lots of leafy greens like baby spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, broccoli slaw, red leaf lettuce, red cabbage, and add some fresh herbs like dill or cilantro for extra flavor. Add in that small animal protein once the big salad is complete. Or, add in a vegetable sourced protein like beans or quinoa along with a small portion of nuts or seeds. Top the salad with a healthy fat (it helps you absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the vegetables) like olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Tip 4: Skip the “after-plate” of sugar, saturated fats and flour (aka-cake, ice cream, cookies):  Dessert can be fruit. The natural sweetness in fruit will quell that sweet craving and satisfy that sweet tooth while providing your body with loads of nutrients and antioxidants.

Tip 5: Begin at breakfast: By adding whole grains that are not processed cereals you can get a good start to the day and boost your plant-based intake. Oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, barley are all good choices of whole grains that are low on the glycemic index. (Read more about Glycemic Index here on this Rolling Strong blog post ). Make sure you don’t opt for the sugar laden processed varieties of these grains. You can make a batch at the beginning of the week if you don’t have time for daily preparation. Oatmeal only takes 2 minutes to cook in a microwave, or you can even make a bowl of overnight oats in a cup and grab and go. Boost your healthy start even more with topping with raw nuts, seeds like hemp seeds, flaxseeds and some Plant eating doesn’t have to be boring.Try a new veggie each week, go local and buy fresh. Creating a new dressing with healthy fats and herbs can give your veggies a fresh twist.

Tip 7 Don’t forget your Macronutrients: Some people go full throttle into eating plant based and forget that they still need to balance their macronutrients -your body needs protein, fats and complex carbohydrates. A big salad can be bold and beautiful and healthy, but you still need a protein. This is where your smaller animal protein can come in, add lean chicken or turkey or some eggs.You can also add beans or a plant based protein like tofu or tempeh. Adding seeds and nuts is another way to add in some protein. Grill a sweet potato, add some barley on the side. Don’t forget a healthy fat like avocado or olive oil to boost your uptake of fat soluble vitamins. The key is to balance and fuel your body.

Tip 8: Don’t become a “Junk Food Vegetarian”: What is a “junk food vegetarian”? That is someone who gravitates to unhealthy plant-based foods and pretends its a healthy choice. Sure, potato chips and French fries are plant based but are they healthy? No. Stay away from fried versions of veggies and other packaged or processed foods. They are usually cooked in refined unhealthy oils (trans fats) and are loaded with sodium.

Making small steps every day by increasing your intake of plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables can do amazing things for your health and longevity. If you are having a hard time transitioning, ask your Rolling Strong Wellness Coach for help. Every day is a new opportunity to become a healthier version of yourself.

By: Cindy Luisi HE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach