Adjusting your diet, reducing stress levels and regularly exercising are fundamental to controlling inflammation and, therefore, naturally treating and preventing coronary heart disease.

Many doctors place people on a treatment plan that includes both prescription medications and lifestyle changes. Depending on which healthcare professional you choose, your symptoms and how severe the disease is, you might be prescribed one or more medicines to treat your high blood pressure or high cholesterol or to prevent complications like diabetes.

However, many people are able to prevent CHD and recover from it naturally by maintaining a healthy lifestyle: changing their diet, stopping smoking, getting good sleep and adding in supplements on top of some other things we’ll discuss below.

Foods That Make Heart Disease Worse

Following a healthy, whole-foods–based diet can reduce inflammation, high blood pressure and unhealthy high cholesterol. Of course, eating well will also help you maintain a healthy weight and have more energy to be active, both of which are important for preventing coronary heart disease.

When most people think of foods that increase chances of heart disease, fatty cuts of meat and fried food probably come to mind. For many years the public was led to believe that cholesterol-rich foods and saturated fats of all kinds increased the risk for developing coronary heart disease. “The cholesterol hypothesis,” as it’s called, rested on the assumption that saturated fats raise cholesterol and that cholesterol clogs arteries.

However, a number of researchers today have demonstrated that this is not necessarily true, and that while this theory has been widely accepted, it has never been proven. Cholesterol is actually an essential component of healthy cells and organisms, and we all need to maintain a certain level to thrive.

According to a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice,

It is now acknowledged that the original studies purporting to show a linear relation between cholesterol intake and coronary heart disease (CHD) may have contained fundamental study design flaws, including conflated cholesterol and saturated fat consumption rates and inaccurately assessed actual dietary intake of fats by study subjects.

The belief today is that elevated blood cholesterol is a symptom, not a cause, of heart disease. Whether or not someone’s blood cholesterol level is increased by eating a certain food depends on that person’s individual cholesterol makeup, and each person is different. Several recent studies have shown that the dynamics of cholesterol homeostasis and of development of CHD are extremely complex and multifactorial and that the previously established relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease risk was likely largely overexaggerated.

In the majority of people, the real cause of heart disease is inflammation. Foods that promote inflammation include:

• Corn and soybean oils

• Pasteurized, conventional dairy

• Refined carbohydrates

• Conventional meat

• Sugars of all kinds

• Trans fats

For many years, skeptics of the cholesterol theory weren’t exactly embraced by the medical community or the public. It was a hard sell telling people that they didn’t need to worry about eating things like high-quality butter, beef and eggs anymore. But it’s becoming more accepted that these types of foods are not harmful for most people and are usually actually beneficial. For the general population, cholesterol screening tests can actually be misleading or even harmful, as they’re now considered unlikely to reduce mortality risk.

When it comes to saturated fats raising cholesterol, the topic needs some explaining. Saturated fat does, in fact, do this, but not in what’s considered an unhealthy or unsafe way for most people. Certain saturated fats, when compared with polyunsaturated fats, do usually raise total cholesterol levels in most people, but we now know that total cholesterol is a poor predictor of heart disease in general.

In fact, saturated fats raise HDL cholesterol, which is known as the “good cholesterol,” while polyunsaturated fats lower this type — low cholesterol might even be worse than high!

Despite the existing evidence that eating cholesterol isn’t the cause of heart disease, most government-funded health associations, including the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, still recommend limiting saturated fats. As part of a treatment plan called “Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes” (TLC) used to control high blood cholesterol through a healthy diet, physical activity and weight management, the Institute recommends that less than 7 percent of daily calories come from saturated fats found in meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods.

The TLC diet is purposefully low in saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol. No more than 25–35 percent of your daily calories are intended to come from all fats, including saturated, trans, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Going forward, we can expect guidelines like this to be updated to reflect the most recent study findings. Over the last decade, many countries and health promotion groups have modified their dietary recommendations to reflect the current evidence and, in fact, now address the negative consequence of ineffective dietary cholesterol in someone’s diet.

So if the truth about saturated fat means that fatty foods aren’t the issue, what is the real cause of inflammation? The real key is eliminating all sources of inflammation from your diet: rancid oils, sugary foods and refined carbs, conventional meats, pasteurized dairy, trans fats and packaged goods in general.

Foods That Heal Heart Disease

Instead of focusing on foods that reduce fat and cholesterol, we would be much better off making the goal to reduce inflammation. Heart disease is really caused by the inflammation of arteries, and yet modern medicine focuses on treating symptoms, not addressing the root cause of the issue.

The healthiest anti-inflammatory foods for fighting coronary heart disease are those beaming with antioxidants and phytonutrients that lower your immune system’s overactive response. These help fight free radical damage and target the problem where it starts by lowering oxidative stress. How do you know what the top antioxidant foods are? Anything loaded with fiber, grown directly from the earth and brightly colored is a good place to start!

Healthy fats and animal proteins have a place among other whole foods in a heart-healthy diet, too. When it comes to including healthy fats, the general effect of quality saturated fats in someone’s diet is to help balance the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterols. Regarding HDL cholesterol, some feel “the higher, the better,” but we know that the ratio of cholesterol is important too. Coconut oil, for example, raises HDL if it’s low and lowers LDL if it’s high. Other foods that help with this balance include grass-fed beef and cocoa — which contain stearic acid — and also butter, which contains palmitic acid.

If you look at evidence from many people living a traditional diet, saturated fats do not cause coronary heart disease. Foods containing saturated fats — such as full-fat dairy, organ meats, beef, eggs, lard and butter — are actually found in high levels in many of the healthiest, longest-living people that have been studied.

Begin incorporating one new anti-inflammatory food to your diet each day.

Don’t be afraid to try new things and keep it interesting!

Foods that help reduce inflammation and, therefore, the risk of CHD include:

• Fiber-rich and antioxidant-rich foods of all kinds

• Vegetables (all kinds, including beets, carrots, cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, dark leafy greens, artichokes, onions, peas, salad greens, mushrooms, sea vegetables and squashes)

• Fruits (all kinds, especially berries and citrus)

• Herbs and spices, especially turmeric (curcumin) and raw garlic (also basil, chili peppers, cinnamon, curry powder, ginger, rosemary and thyme)

• Traditional teas like green tea, oolong or white tea

• Legumes and beans

• Healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, wild-caught fish, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil

• Raw, unpasteurized dairy products, cage-free eggs and pasture-raised poultry

• Red wine in moderation

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular and effective anti-inflammatory diets there is. Foods commonly eaten in the Mediterranean region include fish, vegetables, beans, fruits and olive oil. These have been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides and reduce symptoms of numerous chronic diseases. Following this type of diet that is low in sugar, processed foods, preservatives, vegetable oils and artificial ingredients can also help you maintain a healthier weight.

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