Healthy Eating for a Healthy Heart Heart Health Month

February is American Heart Health Month so nothing is more important than to discuss nutrition. What to eat and what not to eat for a healthy heart. This is often a confusing subject for many people, complicated by a plethora of contradicting diet books/plans, all claiming to be heart healthy. I personally don’t like the word “diet” because it implies a temporary change in how you eat only to resume prior habits. What I think is important is to have a nutritional way of life that becomes your new habit.

As a cardiologist, I have used many tools including medications and interventional cardiac procedures to “treat” my patients. However, without the patients taking the necessary lifestyle changes, including proper nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation, and stress management, all I have done is put a band-aid on their disease. It’s time to focus more on prevention and to empower patients to heal themselves because heart disease is largely preventable.

I recently read “Eat to Live” written by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and I strongly recommend this book for anyone wanting to be healthy. Dr. Fuhrman is a board-certified family physician and nutritional researcher. While it technically is a weight loss book (obesity being a major risk factor for heart disease), I think it is valuable for everyone. The basic concept is that

Health = Nutrients/Calories

Your health is predicted by the amount and quality of nutrient intake (vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals) in your caloric intake (carbohydrates, fats, and protein). The higher the ratio, the healthier you are. This simple approach to eating not only results in significant, sustainable weight loss but also helps to PREVENT heart disease and cancer.

Our Modern American Diet is MAD. Over 90 percent of calories consumed by Americans comes from refined foods or animal products, both of which are essentially devoid of nutrients.

“Refined” foods are foods that have been processed or altered, such as grains, sugar, and oils, so that they are no longer in their natural state. While words such as refined or enriched may sound good, it is quite the opposite.

  • Limit (if overweight, Avoid) Refined Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cold cereals, muffins, bagels – you get the point
  • Limit sugar
  • Limit processed foods (because they are refined, contain sugar and are empty calories)
  • Limit animal foods

Animal foods increase the risk, not only of heart disease but also many cancers. All animal products are low (or completely lacking) in the nutrients that protect us against heart disease and cancer – antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. The risk is linked to all animal foods, including lean meats and poultry and appears to be related to the animal protein as much as the animal fat.

So, what foods are nutrient dense and therefore heart healthy

  • Green leafy vegetables – kale, chard, collard greens, spinach, arugula
  • Other green vegetables – broccoli, asparagus, string beans, peas, Brussel sprouts
  • Non-green vegetables – beets, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, radishes, bean sprouts, bell peppers, cauliflower, carrots
  • Fresh Fruit– all berries, apples, bananas, peaches, pineapple, grapes, kiwi
  • Beans – lentils, kidney, great northern, black, pinto, chickpeas, edamame
  • Raw nuts and seeds – sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flaxseeds, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts
  • Colorful starchy vegetables – sweet potatoes, squash, turnips
  • Whole grains – oats, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, bulgur, millet, whole grain bread


As you can see, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Nutritional density is highest at the top and decreases going down the list. So when you’re thinking about what to eat, start at the top, make the greens the largest portion of your daily food consumption and then add the others.

Changing how we eat is not easy. Trust me, I understand (yesterday I had pasta and wine). Eating is emotional and social. But it is also the only way to real health. It is a choice we make for ourselves and our families. I suggest aiming to consume 60 percent of your calories from nutrient dense plant foods. This is 10 times what most Americans consume and will decrease your risk of heart disease (and cancer) significantly. Let’s get started and stay healthy.

Let food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates


Millie Lee, MD


February is Heart Health Month What You Should Know for a Healthy Heart

February is Heart Health Month – A time to raise awareness of the seriousness of heart disease and how to prevent it.

What you should know About Heart Disease

Cardiovascular Disease (Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, & Strokes) sadly remains the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.  Here are some startling statistics.

  • One in four deaths in this country is caused by heart disease.
  • In 2008, over 616,000 people died of heart disease.
  • Coronary heart disease (i.e. blockages in the heart arteries) is the most common type of heart disease
  • Every year about 785,000 Americans have a first heart attack. Another 470,000 who have already had one or more coronary attacks have another attack
  • In 2008, 405,309 people died from coronary heart disease.
  • In 2010, coronary heart disease alone was projected to cost the United States $108.9 billion. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

These are shocking statistics in spite of the tremendous advances we have made in the treatment of heart disease.

You may ask why? You should ask why because with these frightening statistics it is very possible to affect you or a loved one.

What you should know for a healthy heart

In my professional opinion as a cardiologist, it is because people are not aware they are the empowered ones to prevent and nearly eliminate this disease (not doctors or scientists). Likewise, many are not aware of the warning signs and symptoms and thus do not act quickly enough to avoid death or limit the damage from a heart attack.

Good News – Heart Disease is predominantly preventable! Yes, PREVENTABLE!  So, don’t wait for it to happen… because it will if you don’t do something now. It’s never too late to reduce your risk of heart disease.

This month, I will focus on heart disease -facts you should know and more importantly, how to prevent it!

Common risk factors for heart disease

  • Hypertension or High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes Mellitus or High Blood Glucose
  • Hypercholesterolemia or High Cholesterol
  • Smoking Cigarettes
  • Stress
  • Age
  • Family History of Premature Heart Disease

Looking at this list, you can see that almost all are preventable -Hypertension, Diabetes, High Cholesterol, smoking, and stress.

 Sorry.. can’t do too much about your age or family (although even our genes are modifiable!).

All of these risk factors are preventable with proper nutrition, exercise and stress management. It is not difficult, but it does require a commitment to your health every day. Next blog, I’ll talk about heart-healthy foods. Here’s a sneak peek! It’s this easy.


First tip for Heart Month: WALK. Log those steps. Every step you take is a part of your journey to heart health. Walking briskly can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Rx: 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity (brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity (such as jogging or running) or a combination of both.

Click here to learn more from the American Heart Association

Dr Lee signing off…..

till next time!