The good news is that 80% of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented by lifestyle changes. “We are what we eat,” and I do believe that if diet was studied more extensively, we can be more specific in terms of our recommendations involving everything from heart disease risk to cancer risk. As cardiologist, we usually recommend the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is typically high in legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and most importantly olive oil. It involves the weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs, and limited intake of red meat.
Interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s with the observation that heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, than in the U.S. and northern Europe. Subsequent studies found that the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced risk factors for heart disease.
Heathy fats are the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, with olive oil as the primary source. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which has been found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Nuts and seeds also contain monounsaturated fat. Fish, particularly fatty fish such as mackerel, albacore tuna, and salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that may reduce inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids also help decrease triglycerides, reduce blood clotting, and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure. The Mediterranean diet has also been associated with other disease decreased risk, such as deceased risk of cancer.