Nutrition for the Heart

Your body is an interlinked chain, and once the dietary fuse is lit, it can set off a fiery domino effect of dangerous diseases.

Poor nutritional choices compound over time; a highfat, high-caloric diet ignites the potential of obesity and leads to the likely consequences of numerous metabolic diseases—heart disease being one of the terminal stops on your body’s path to total health destruction.

Sound extreme?

As we all know, proper nutrition and a balanced diet are two key components in maintaining a healthy life. But diet and nutrition are also interrelated; if you believe that you can consume a high-fat, high-calorie diet and simply use supplements to meet your nutritional needs, you are sorely mistaken.

A compromised diet sets fire to the next link—obesity. Obesity is one of the leading contributors to heart disease. Over the past twenty years there has been an obvious increase in obesity in the United States. It is now estimated that nearly one-third of the adult population is classified as obese. For adults, overweight and obesity ranges are determined using height and weight to calculate a number called the "body mass index" (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates directly with their amount of body fat. An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, while an adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

Eric L. Ding, MD, a Harvard professor who specializes in nutritional risk factors for chronic disease, explains some causes for obesity and how it connects to the next link in this cause-and-affect chain—heart disease. It’s obvious to Ding, who says obesity (and thus heart disease) are often key indicators of poor dietary choices.

According to Ding, there are two main predecessors to becoming obese: overeating and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. While portion control is imperative to achieving a healthy weight, knowing what your serving contains is just as vital. Our nutrient-poor, calorie-rich diet is a leading cause of obesity; eating a small serving of butter-drenched veggies does not provide you with the same health benefits that consuming an equal-sized portion of steamed veggies would, for example. It is important to realize that not all calories are the same, so replace your daily allotted amount with nutrient-rich, wholesome foods—500 calories of cookies is not the same as 500 calories of organic vegetables! The average adult female requires about 1800 calories per day and the average adult male requires 2200 calories per day. Eating just one fast food lunch can easily exceed half of your daily caloric intake.

Ding’s other leading contributor to soaring obesity statistics is the consumption of sugar-laden beverages. As the American diet has changed dramatically in the past 30-50 years, the biggest downfall has been our increased level of sugar consumption. At the beginning of the 19th century the average person consumed ten pounds of sugar per year. Now, the average American consumes 150-180 pounds per year with beverages serving as a discreet avenue for sugar intake.

Ding refers to sugar-sweetened beverages as “metabolic poison” because they are one of the only products that tricks your body into thinking that it’s taking in fewer calories than it actually is.

Eliminating these drinks is vital to your success, accompanied by a proper diet that you can sustain throughout your lifetime. Most fad diets fail to address the real nutrition issue. They may count calories, recommend “branded” pre-packaged foods, or limit your diet to specific food types. While it may work in the short term, it’s usually not a plan that will last much longer than that. A better approach is to change to a whole foods-based diet, avoid processed foods, choose animal products that are grass fed, consume high-fiber whole grains, integrate legumes, buy organic food as your budget allows, and most importantly, eat in moderation. Ding recommends a diet that includes five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Focus your diet on quality rather than quantity, and you will feel better and be less attracted to foods that do not provide proper nourishment.

So, finally we reach the end of our fuse—heart disease. How does all of this talk about food relate to heart disease? “Eighty percent of heart disease can be prevented by focusing on nutrition, obesity, and lifestyle,” says Ding. He scoffs at the claim that we can be “fat and fit.” Obesity is directly related to many chronic conditions that could very well be the underlying cause of heart disease.

Losing weight should be viewed as a long-term process. It involves a change in lifestyle with a new emphasis based on food quality. The process includes learning how to read labels to understand the ingredients we consume. Once you learn to recognize where your food comes from, you will quickly realize that “marketing” uses descriptions that are often misleading. You will also realize that trusted “healthy brands” can contain ingredients you may want to exclude from your diet and, ultimately, may not be quite so healthy. It’s never too late to make these changes. The human body is an amazing machine; improving your lifestyle and diet can certainly reduce your risk for heart disease.

To accompany a healthy diet, you may need supplements to assist you in meeting your daily nutritional needs. Dr. Ding emphasizes the value of integrating specific nutritional supplements to combat heart disease. He indicates that no matter how good your diet is, there are indeed some cases where you may need supplements. Before taking supplements, discuss your diet and lifestyle with a nutritionist or healthcare provider. Make sure they understand any unique conditions you may have and inquire about the value of the recommended supplement. Also, be sure to advise them of any pharmaceutical drugs you are taking. You will need to monitor your regimen of supplements and modify it according to any dietary, medical, or lifestyle changes. Some of the more common supplements for heart health include:

Coenzyme Q10: Boosts oxygenation of heart tissue, and can prevent recurrence of heart attacks.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Effective in reducing cholesterol and triglycerides. If you take omega-3 fish oil capsules or eat fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon, you will reduce the risk of experiencing heart rhythm disturbances, atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, heart palpitations, and hardening of the arteries. Because it can be difficult to get the recommended amount of omega-3 from regular foods, a quality fish oil capsule is a viable choice.

The B vitamins: Vitamin B12, B6, and B9 (folic acid) have demonstrated benefits in improving heart health.

Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant, it can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Vitamin C: It is a potent regulator of high blood pressure.

Vitamin D: Since the natural source of vitamin D is the sun, those in northern climates or the elderly can suffer from vitamin D deficiencies.

Before integrating any of these supplements, analyze your diet and lifestyle needs to decide which ones will help you personally meet the daily recommended dosage. It is also important to use supplements based on natural products, not inexpensive chemical substitutes. Not all supplements are the same, so make sure those you are selective in choosing the best ones to meet your needs.

Many diets claim that they are the best for preventing heart disease, but research indicates there are many heart-friendly diets. They can include your favorite foods (yes, even red meat) when consumed in moderation. The key to a successful diet is a program than can be incorporated into your everyday lifestyle and become routine. This will insure long term success and avoid the rollercoaster effects of many fad diets. You can prevent heart disease by making simple dietary changes, taking adequate levels of supplements, and living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Ding’s bottom-line advice? “Make every effort to lose weight. Not losing weight and remaining obese is as bad as smoking every day.”


Are you at risk for heart disease?

Do you smoke?

Are you considered obese?

Has anyone in your immediate family been diagnosed with heart disease?

Do you have diabetes?

Do you have elevated cholesterol or triglycerides?

Do you have heart palpitations or heart “flutters”?

Do you have hypertension, high blood pressure or take high blood pressure medications?

Do you stand up and get light headed?


Is chocolate good for us?

According to Dr. Eric Ding the answer is yes and no. Chocolate contains flavonoid-rich cocoa or FRC. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, there was a consensus that FRC may have a cardio-protective effect. This is because it can significantly lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol counts as well as vascular dilation. In order to notice a difference from the chocolate, you need to consume 8 dark chocolate bars or 33 milk chocolate bars a day. There is another option to get the required FRC; it is available as an over-the-counter supplement with a recommended dose of 500mg.