Heart disease causes over 650,000 US deaths each year (nearly 1 in 4 deaths). It is not only our number one killer, but is a name for an umbrella of chronic conditions that tens of millions of people in the US suffer from every day. Arrhythmia, high blood pressure, stroke, blood clots, irregular heartbeats, heart attack, venous insufficiency, congestive heart failure, poor circulation, are some of the chronic symptoms and disorders of the cardiovascular system that plague a majority of adults in the United States. Each of us knows someone close to us who suffers from some level of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
CVD is a disease that affects the vascular system and heart and is by and large a result of systemic inflammation. This raging inflammation is caused by poor diet, a poor stress response, microbes, autoimmune responses, poor sleep habits, smoking, and more. Our diets, lifestyle factors, inability to cope with stressors, and poor relationships all lead to a tremendously increased risk of inflammation in the arteries and vascular system and put us on the path for developing heart disease.
The Cause for All the Problems
Perhaps the greatest inflamer of them all is SUGAR. In a month that also contains Valentine’s Day and “Fat” Tuesday, Heart Month struggles to survive its goal of making people aware of heart disease risks and symptoms.
I constantly explain to clients that added sugars or too much sugar in the diet causes inflammation in the body due to increased oxidative stress. This increase in blood glucose wreaks havoc on your system. It is like sandpaper to the arteries. The body tries to remedy the damage and the healing process can end up causing a plaque to form that clogs the entire thing. According to the Harvard Heart Letter, “Elevated blood sugar also stiffens the arteries so they don’t expand as well, and makes blood platelets stickier and more likely to form blood clots.”
Sugar = Broken Heart and Broken Brain.
It is important to note that once you hit an average fasting blood glucose of 90mg/dL or a 2 hour postprandial (after eating) glucose of 96mg/dL and above you are double the risk of a heart event. As the average glucose number rises, the risk increases even more. Compared with a diet that contains less than 10% of calories from added sugars, a diet containing 25% or more calories from added sugars nearly triples the risk for CVD mortality.
In case that wasn’t enough to convince you of the damage sugar can have, you may want to also consider an average fasting glucose of 90 mg/dL and above also starts to shrink the brain’s memory center.
So what can you do to put a little love in your heart and start to reverse the damage that has been done?
Change what’s on your fork. Put down the foods that contain added sugars. Kick processed, packaged foods, and flour-product foods that spike insulin and turn quickly to sugar to the curb. Reach for whole, nutrient-dense foods instead. Create a plate that contains 75% non-starchy vegetables by volume. Select protein sources that are sustainably sourced and are also rich in omega-3 fats, such as wild caught salmon and even grass-fed beef. Give your pantry an oil change. Swap out oils that are susceptible to oxidation and found to be more inflammatory in the body. Replace oils such as corn, soy, and canola with grab extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, grass-fed ghee, and avocado oil instead.
A “heart-healthy” diet is one that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods that are not processed or refined. It contains many cups (aim for 8+ per day) of non-starchy vegetables. Along with nuts and seeds, limited whole grains, grass-fed/pasture-raised meats and poultry, wild caught fatty fish and seafood, fruits, and herbs. It forgoes added sugars. Especially sugar-sweetened beverages, candy and sweets, fried fats, flour products, highly refined seed oils, and conventionally raised meats and poultry. There is no one-size-fits all diet, so these are general recommendations. One man’s medicine can be another man’s poison.
If you want to learn more about what foods are right for you and for your own personalized heart-healthy food plan, contact Whitney today!
- CDC. Heart Disease Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Sept 8 2020. Accessed Feb 14 2021.
- Anand, Sonia S et al. Food Consumption and its Impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions Focused on the Globalized Food System: A Report From the Workshop Convened by the World Heart Federation. Journal of the American College of Cardiology vol. 66,14 (2015): 1590-1614. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.050
- Harvard Health Publishing. The diabetes-heart disease connection and what it means for you. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-diabetes-heart-disease-connection-and-what-it-means-for-you. Mar 2014. Accessed Feb 14, 2021.
- Fuller JH , Shipley MJ , Rose G , et al. Coronary-heart-disease risk and impaired glucose tolerance. The Whitehall study. Lancet 1980;1:1373–6.doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(80)92651-3
- Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, et al. Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA Intern Med 2014;174:516–24.doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563