Could the right food lower your heart disease risk better than meds?

When it comes to treating — or preventing — heart disease, we rely primarily on medications to get the job done.

That’s because clinical trials inform us about how much risk we are eliminating by prescribing pills. But this pill-centric approach often ignores the tremendous impact diet has on outcomes.

For example, statins are lauded as imperative for risk reduction in patients with established heart disease.

And they do work — lowering the risk of cardiovascular events in these individuals by around 24 percent.

But did you know diet is even more powerful?

Food: an easier pill to swallow

A recent study documented that the Mediterranean diet, which is high in nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, beans, unprocessed grains, olive oil, and fish, reduced cardiovascular events in patients with heart disease by a whopping 37 percent.

That makes food one- and one-half times as powerful as drugs!

Now I need to be very clear — I’m not saying you should just throw out your statins and start eating nuts if you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease. If you tolerate these medications, you should continue to take them — after all, you want every advantage you can get, and a 24 percent risk reduction is quite significant.

But I would also advise you to embrace diet as your main prevention strategy because it is the MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO to assure a long and healthy life, and not just for heart health.

And what if you haven’t been diagnosed with heart disease and are lowering your cholesterol with medications purely for preventative measures?

Doing everything you can to minimize your dependence on statins is a smart move — especially since the right changes to your diet can help you get off statins altogether. That’s a big deal because statins are not medications you take for a couple of weeks. They are medications you potentially take for the rest of your life — like food.

But instead of pills for life, why not consider food as medicine?

The power of food is not news to me and that’s why I’m on a mission to help make food a central component of a smart health care plan. Your diet is the most important influencer of your health — it’s a fact.

Cutting heart disease risk with food

The Mediterranean eating plan and is grounded in research from the world’s leading institutions. The medical literature is actually voluminous and consistent about what nutrients in what amounts impact cholesterol levels and heart health — namely 10 grams of whole food fiber, 3 grams of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, 2 grams of plant sterols, and 5000 µmoL antioxidants per day.

Why these nutrients and these amounts?

Here’s why:

  • Every 10 grams/day increase in whole food fiber intake is associated with a 14 percent decrease in risk of experiencing a coronary event and a 24 percent decrease in risk of dying from heart disease. Good sources include nuts, beans, whole grains, and brown rice.
  • Every 1-gram increase in food-based ALA omega-3 intake is associated with a 16 percent reduction in risk of heart disease. Good sources include fish, flaxseed, and soybean.
  • Eating one extra serving of fruits or vegetables daily is associated with 4 percent decrease in the risk of heart disease and a 6 percent decrease in the risk of ischemic stroke (just think what 3 servings of fruits/vegetables could do!).
  • Taking in 2 grams of plant sterols, in 2 servings of food, reduces LDL cholesterol by up to 15 percent. Sources include fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and many grains.

We know that food has a powerful impact on outcomes — and yet the medical system primarily focuses on getting you to take pills. Pills are not necessarily evil, but they are an incomplete solution.

No drug can compare to the huge overall impact dietary changes can make. And it doesn’t have to be hard. Yes, you can find these nutrients in sources I’ve outlined above for you, but if you need an easier way, check out Step One Foods.

Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

By Dr. Elizabeth Klodas MD, FACC

"Diet is a major driver of high cholesterol, but instead of changing the food, we prescribe medications. This never seemed logical to me.” Dr. Klodas has dedicated her career to preventive cardiology. Trained at Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, she is the founder and Chief Medical Officer for Step One Foods. Dr. Klodas is a nationally sought out speaker and has an active role at the American College of Cardiology. Her clinical interests include prevention of heart disease and non-invasive cardiac imaging and she has published dozens of scientific articles throughout her career. Dr. Klodas has been featured on CNN Health for her mission to change how heart disease is treated. An independent study performed at leading medical institutions affirmed the ability of Step One Foods to deliver measurable and meaningful cholesterol-reduction benefits in the real world. The results of the trial were presented at the 2018 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions. Dr. Klodas has also authored a book for patients, "Slay the Giant: The Power of Prevention in Defeating Heart Disease," and served as founding Editor-in-Chief of the patient education effort of the American College of Cardiology. In addition to her practice and her duties at Step One Foods, she also serves as medical editor for webMD.