Eric Bakker N.D.May 5, 2022

There are many different diets recommended for heart health. Personally, I've found the Mediterranean diet one of the best as it contains all the elements that improve circulation, reducing inflammation and high blood pressure. And - it's back by research.


What Do I Eat With High Blood Pressure?

Everyone is looking for that one magic food to optimise their health. Heart health is not only about oatmeal and omega-3 fats, it is important to look for ways to get all the different nutrients. The other important factor about a varied diet is that you’ll stick to a heart-healthy lifestyle longer if you have variety, and that’s why variety is best in selecting heart-healthy foods,

There really is an abundance of fruits and vegetables in many colours, shapes, sizes that are good for your heart, and you can certainly reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating these foods you will find on this page every day. You will find good choices and not so good choices.

Low fat diet & low stress – 91% less symptoms

One of the primary alternatives to prescription heart drugs is a healthy diet. Study after study shows that a low saturated fat diet not only helps to prevent heart disease, but can actually help to reverse it. In a study conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (1983), 23 heart patients were given a low fat diet and were taught stress reduction techniques as their predominant therapy. Most of these 23 patients were having up to ten angina attacks per week. Almost 30 percent of these 23 had already had a heart attack, and all patients were on heart medicines. the low-fat diet and stress reduction resulted in an incredible 91 percent reduction in angina attacks. Attacks were reduced from two per day to one per week! But the most incredible results were yet to come.

Dr. Dean Ornish proved in the 80’s that diet & stress reduction can actually reverse heart disease.

One year later, this group were compared with another group of patients on the same standard drugs but paid no attention to diet or stress reduction. The low-fat group experienced a much quicker alleviation of their symptoms and their diet regime actually reversed their blocked coronary arteries! Those on standard medications on the other hand showed an increase in artery blockages around the heart.

The best diet we have found is low animal fat, high in complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, essential fatty acids, high fibre foods and coloured vegetables packed full with antioxidants. We prefer you to eat non-fat yoghurt, chicken with most of the skin removed and grilled or steamed fish, avoid red meats and pork. Foods to avoid include processed meats like sausages, refined white and artificial sugars, margarine and white refined salt.

Why is fresh produce so important?

Fresh produce provides one of the major cornerstones for a heart healthy diet because they supply the necessary vitamins and minerals, high fibre and in addition help wipe out free radicals in the bloodstream and thereby protect blood vessels.

One of the best diets for a healthy heart and circulatory system is a whole-foods diet, and the best diets are those where everything is in its natural form – and the less processed the better. Example are whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts, fatty fish, and certain teas which are all important – these are all food choices which offer all sorts of complex heart-protective phytonutrients.

The Okinawa Diet – 80% less heart disease

If you want proof of your heart’s untapped potential, consider Okinawa, a Japanese island group in the East China Sea. This island group has the world’s highest proportion of people aged over 100, In Okinawa, for every 100,000 residents there are 35 who are over 100, and Australia and NZ have less than 25 centenarians per 100,000.

The Okinawa way of life includes a lifestyle which values serenity and spirituality, daily exercise and a diet very low in saturated fats and high in fruits, vegetables, soya protein and fish. Did you know that Okinawa’s death rates from CAD (coronary artery disease) are a staggering 80 percent lower than Australia and New Zealand?

When journalists and researchers heard about the island’s heart-healthy lifestyle and diet the flocked to Okinawa and were stunned to discover fit, healthy and active elderly people living full lives without drugs, nursing homes, surgery or plugged into life-support systems.

A documentary made about Okinawa showed a 100 year old villager with better fitness levels than an entire film crew less than half her age, a 96 year old martial artist who beat a 36 year old boxing champion (on national American television live) and even a 105 year old woman who easily killed poisonous snakes. Men and women in their 90’s were seen leading normal active lives, including daily swimming in the ocean and even horseback riding.

It was concluded that if we in Australia and NZ lived more like the Okinawans, many coronary care units could be “permanently shut down”.

The Cretan Diet 

A study published in The Lancet found that men who lived on the island of Crete, eating a diet rich in Mediterranean sun ripened produce, beans, olives, local olive oil, wine and lots of fish – had a striking 50 – 70 per cent reduction in the risk of recurrent heart disease compared to men eating a “healthy” Western diet.

But wait a moment – this was in spite of the fact that the cholesterol levels in people following the Cretan and Western diets – were almost identical! Are you still convinced the “lowering cholesterol” is the path to a healthy heart? Think again.

Six simple steps to a eating for a healthy heart

1) Fresh fruits and vegetables.
2) Power up on protein
3) Choose low fat milk and dairy choices.
4) Replace margarine with olive oil or butter (sparingly)
5) Reduce refined white salt; eat unrefined salt
6) Eat like a Cretan or an Okinawan

Heart Healthy Food Groups

Fruits and coloured vegetablesOur distant ancestors were hunter gatherers and recent British research has discovered that early man did not exist on large amounts of meat, but ate small amounts of meat sparingly. Primitive man ate a wide variety of seeds, grains, nuts, roots, fruits and vegetables, and our bodies have thus evolved over time to expect large and regular doses of foods brimming with antioxidants, soluble fibres and packed with many nutrients such as phytosterols. Without these foods in our diet, our heart risk rises.

Aim to eat at least 6-8 servings daily, consisting of 2 pieces of fruit, 1 cup raw leafy or salad vegetables, 1 cup cooked vegetables, 1 tomato or 1 carrot or 1 small avocado.

JuicingA great juice for the heart is 100% grape juice.

Grains and starchy vegetablesChoose a variety of grain products, but choose whole grain preferably. Aim to eat at least 6 or more serves of whole grained foods and starchy vegetables.  An example of a daily intake could be the following: 1 medium slice of wholemeal or multi grain bread, 1/2 cup wholemeal pasta or whole rolled oats, 1/2 cup whole wheat cereal, 1/2 cup sweet potato and 3 whole grain crisp breads. Carbohydrates are fine, but adopt Low GI Eating .

Fish & seafood, peas and beans, lean meat and poultry – Lean meats and eggs are packed with homocysteine-lowering B vitamins. Fish will give you Omega 3 fatty-acids that keep your heart rhythm steady and assist in keeping the blood thin. Poultry, including chicken and turkey are an excellent protein low in artery-clogging fats.

Proteins will help to keep food cravings at bay and will stop over-eating because they make you feel full for longer. Beans, pulses and legumes like chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils are rich in high quality proteins and just happen to be very high in fibre as well. This is very important, because it is this high fibre which will help to carry the bad cholesterol out of your body.

The problem with protein, however, is that it has the potential to contain too much animal fat, and this can raise your level of harmful LDL, increasing your risk of a stroke or heart attack. Be smart – choose low fat proteins, and avoid meats like sausages and salami and bacon (unless very lean), which are notorious for containing large amounts of fat.

Fish and seafood – We believe that the healthiest protein for your heart is fresh cold-water deep sea ocean fish. Salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, anchovies and mackerel are all good choices of fish containing good levels of omega 3. It is best to get three to four serving of fish per week. If you are not keen on seafood, take a few omega 3 fish oils capsules daily and eat some walnuts, they are the only nut containing appreciable amounts of omega 3.

Beans – Viewed by many as vegetarian (or “poor”) way of eating, beans are a great and are often a completely overlooked source of protein by many people who live in the Western developed countries. Relatively few people take the time to cook interesting and varied recipes that include beans, and you can work wonders for your heart health by discovering the versatility that bean dishes can bring to your table.

Try making meatless Mexican taco, burrito or chilli dishes. You can make hearty soups or even add canned red kidney beans or chickpeas to salads.

Eat between 1-3 serves of protein depending on your calorie requirements – a 150 gram can of ‘lite’ tuna, 2 small or 1 large fillet of cooked fish, 1/2 cup lean beef mince or casserole, 1 cup cooked dried beans. Aim for fresh fish often, and oily fish is the best for heart health, e.g mackerel, tuna, sardines, anchovies.

Milk and dairy products Eat 2-3 serves depending on your calorie requirements  1 cup trim or very low-fat milk, 1/3 cup cottage cheese, 1 small container of low-fat yoghurt, 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese. Dairy is NOT the best choice for those with established coronary artery disease.

Oils, spreads, nuts, seeds and avocado Eat more nuts, and try different nuts you may not have had much before – like macadamias, walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios. Sprinkle them on cereals, salads, yoghurt, stir-fry dishes and many other meals or snacks. Ensure you don’t overeat nuts and have unsalted to make sure you keep your blood pressure in check.

Choose products made from olive, sunflower, rice bran, canola, or safflower oil. Other good choices are sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds or almond and Brazil nuts. Eat 3 or more serves depending on calorie requirements. Avocado is another excellent choice, but walnuts are the best nut for the heart as they contain omega 3.

Peanut butter and tahiniThese contain monounsaturated fats, high levels of protein, vitamin E, fibre and various minerals like calcium and magnesium. Spread them on some pure rye bread or use as dips for baby carrots, slices of apple, pears or pieces of carrot and celery.

Reduce your intake of saturated fatsRemove most of the skin from chicken or turkey and trim the visible fat from all meats, and replace cream for yoghurt in recipes where possible.

Monounsaturated fats – Buy an olive oil sprayer and use in your cooking. Use olive oil or sunflower oil instead of “blended” vegetable oils. A small amount of butter is acceptable, and we do like you to avoid margarine. Coconut oil is proving to be an excellent choice, even though it is a saturated fat, it does not appear to be a cause of heart disease.

Avoid trans fatsAvoid packaged snacks and baked goods with partially hydrogenated fats or oils listed as ingredients. Use olive oil instead. Most Australian and NZ food manufacturers have been trying to remove all trans fats from spreads.

Non alcoholic drinks –  Between 6-8 (non-alcoholic) drinks daily – choose from water, one cup tea, one cup of coffee and/or dilute fruit juice.

Alcoholic drinks – Low to moderate alcohol consumption can be an enjoyable, positive aspect of social life and this consumption has also been shown to have a protective effect in heart disease – probably due to the relaxing effect of alcohol on the person. However heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, particularly if the person smokes.

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