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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Jim

Heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in the United States, and elevated LDL cholesterol levels are thought to be a primary cause. This may explain why a more plant-based diet, higher in fiber and lower in dietary cholesterol and saturated fats, has been so successful in preventing and treating the disease. The balance of evidence suggests that a plant-based diet may not only protect against but even reverse coronary artery disease, which often starts in childhood.

Due to a lack of nutrition education in medical schools, many doctors may be unaware of the power of nutrition to stop heart disease and improve heart health.

Eating just one egg a day may exceed the safe limit of cholesterol and has been linked to a shortened lifespan. Chicken and fish consumption may have the same negative impact as red meat on cholesterol. Fish and fish oil supplements may not be as heart-healthy as once thought, perhaps due to contamination by mercury and industrial pollutants. Heme iron, found concentrated in meat, may increase heart disease mortality

There are certain plant foods that may be protective against heart disease, especially foods high in nitratesantioxidantsfiber, and potassium. These include greens such as kale, soy and other beans, nuts (including peanut butter), tea (especially hibiscus and green tea), flax seeds, whole grains, citrus, Ceylon cinnamon, coffee, cocoa, dark chocolate, dried apples, Indian gooseberries, golden raisins and currants, berries, tomatoes, oatmeal and some spices (such as turmeric). For additional benefits, combine a plant-based diet with one hour of exercise daily and seven hours of sleep each night.

Certain foods, drugs and lifestyle habits are associated with adverse cardiac consequences including coconut oil and coconut milk, dark fish, salt, high fat meals, BPA and smoking. Alcohol may be protective against heart disease but is not recommended because it increases cancer risk.

Image Credit: udra / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.

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