Which diet is best for your heart health — vegan, gluten-free, paleo, low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, raw?
While it’s clear there’s no single perfect diet that suits everyone, there are a couple that come mighty close, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health.
The World's Heart-Healthiest Diets
When all of the diet hype settles, there are two tried and true diets that are still standing tall: the Mediterranean and Okinawan diets. A large body of research has shown that the foods and lifestyles enjoyed by these cultures for centuries are key to their long life spans, and low rates of heart disease.
Although these diets are quite different in their content and flavors, they do have some very important things in common.
- Abundant and diverse plant foods, packed with nutrients & polyphenols
- Antioxidant-rich spices and herbs
- More fish & minimal red meat
- Smaller portion sizes & slower, mindful eating
Let’s dig a little deeper into the secrets behind these medically acclaimed diets.
The Mediterranian Diet
The Mediterranean diet encompasses foods from various regions that border the Mediterranean Sea (Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, etc.). It emphasizes vegetables, spices & herbs, beans, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish, healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil and moderate alcohol consumption.
Red meat and dairy? Not so much. The menu du jour may include tasty morsels such as beans, salmon, almonds, pomegranate, citrus fruits, grapes and of course everything drizzled in extra virgin olive oil and perhaps accompanied by a glass of resveratrol-rich red wine. Yes please!
Plenty of solid research supports the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet on heart health. There’s the Athens Study and the Lyon Diet Heart Study, among many others. Researchers found that those who most closely followed the typical Mediterranean diet lived the longest and had the lowest incidence of heart disease.
The Okinawan Diet
Known as “the Hawaii” of Japan, Okinawa consists of 161 beautiful, palm-treed tropical islands off the mainland. Okinawans live longer and are the least likely to get heart disease of any group in the world (Okinawan Centenarian Study). It’s not just about lifespan, it’s about HEALTH span. These are the some of the healthiest, most content people you will meet.
Just like the Mediterranean diet, the Okinawan diet is a relatively low-fat diet rich in fish with very little red meat. It also includes a special, traditionally prepared fermented soy food called natto, which contains a unique heart-healthy enzyme called nattokinase.
Tea drinking is not only about ceremony in Okinawa, it’s about health benefits — hibiscus and Matcha teas are imbibed daily. Turmeric, called ucchin, is a highly prized and favorite spice on these islands, along with mandarin oranges, sweet potatoes, bitter melon and seaweed.
Portion sizes are always small, with a common Okinawan saying that one should eat until only 80% full. Eating and living is done mindfully. It’s a culture focused around purpose, community, gentle movement, and healthy food traditions.
So, now you’re probably thinking: how can I get me some of what they have?
10 Steps To Eat The Heart-Healthy Way
- Drizzle your foods in high quality extra virgin olive oil.
- Beans over beef — include a variety of beans in 2 meals per week.
- Variety is the spice of life. Incorporate a diversity of plant foods and herbs like basil, turmeric, garlic, onions, greens, sweet potatoes.
- Boost Omega 3s. Aim for two servings of fish/seafood per week especially oily fish like wild salmon.
- Fancy your fruits. Pomegranates, citrus, grapes and berries are rich in inflammation-busting polyphenols.
- Eat your nuts but don’t go nuts. A small handful per day of raw almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts are the way to go.
- If you can tolerate grains, choose whole ones like brown rice, quinoa and whole oats.
- Reel back on pro-inflammatory foods like sugar, white flour products, trans-fats, and processed foods.
- Enjoy a glass of resveratrol-rich red wine and/or a cup of Matcha green tea every day.
- Serve up smaller portions, take your time to enjoy your meal, chew, and do your best to not overeat.
BONUS 11. Take Heart Protector, a heart supporting supplement that incorporates many of these herbs and beneficial compounds as concentrated extracts. Love your heart!