Healthy Heart Diets

veggie_heartThe tenet, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” espoused by Hippocrates nearly 2,500 years ago, is receiving renewed interest. Heart related illness is one of the highest contributors to the lifestyle-based chronic diseases creating an epidemic in the Western world. It is now ranked as one the highest contributors to mortality.  Fortunately, the risk of heart disease is significantly decreased with focus on diet as treatment.

Evidence from studies indicates that a high consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains is associated with a significantly lower risk of coronary artery disease and stroke. The protective effects of these foods are mediated through various constituents including mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, n−3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (folate, niacin), minerals (magnesium, potassium, calcium), phytochemicals, fiber, flavonoids (Catechins, anthocyanin and resveratrol), carotenoids (Beta-carotene and lutein), and plant protein. In dietary practice, healthy plant-based diets do not emphasize a low-fat component.  Instead, these diets should include moderate amounts of unsaturated fats as the predominant form of dietary fat (sunflower, safflower, olive, avocado and coconut oils and nuts), whole grains as the main carbohydrate, copious fruit and vegetables, and sufficient amounts of omega−3 fatty acids. These foods are specifically emphasized in traditions of the Mediterranean diet, the Pan Asian diet, or a combination of the two.

 The Mediterranean diet consists of the following:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
  • Healthy fats, such as olive oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (6 ounces a few times a week)

The Pan-Asian Diet, which has been researched by Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist, consists of:

  • Vegetables, especially leafy greens
  • Rice
  • Seafood
  • Spices, especially onion and garlic
  • No dairy products.

The heart-healthy PAM diet plan includes 45 to 50 percent slow-burning, low-glycemic index carbohydrates; 30 percent healthy fats; and 20 to 25 percent protein.

Heart Healthy Diet Guidelines

Increase your intake of:

  • Steel cut oatmeal
  • Slow-burning, low-glycemic index vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and spinach
  • Legumes, such as lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas (these are dense in folic acid, and help lower insulin levels)
  • Onions and garlic (sulfur derivatives and allicin, which assist lower lipids and blood pressure)
  • Fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and basil
  • Fruits, such as cherries, peaches, plums, strawberries, blueberries, apricots, pears, and apples (melons, grapes, and kiwi are suitable, but have a higher glycemic index)
  • Sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and protein, such as wild, cold-water fish and organic eggs
  • Fermented soy products, such as tempeh
  • Fish, especially fatty rich ones like wild, sustainably-harvested salmon
  • Healthy fats, such as olive, sesame, walnut, avocado, and flax oils
  • Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, and flaxseed

Written By Noe Ferullo, NCNM Naturopathic Medicine Program. Edited by Dr. Elise Schroeder


What evidence for the benefits of ‘5-a-day’, a Mediterranean diet and sodium restriction on health? DTB. 2015;53:6-9,

Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, et al. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation. 1999;99:779–785.

Dolores Corella, Paula Carrasco, Jose V. Sorlí, et al. “Mediterranean Diet Reduces the Adverse Effect of the TCF7L2-rs7903146 Polymorphism on Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Stroke Incidence”, Diabetes Care, 13 August 2013. Accessed November 2nd 2013.