Diet and Heart Disease
A direct relationship exists between heart disease and diet. Although diet is not a direct risk factor, it affects several risk factors for the condition, including having diabetes, being overweight, and having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Research has shown that following a diet low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can reduce the chances of developing heart disease.
Heart disease and diet are closely linked -- more so than you might originally think. While a person's diet is not considered a direct risk factor for heart disease, it can influence a number of other risk factors for the condition.
To understand the impact a person's eating plan might have, it is first helpful to understand some of the heart disease risk factors that diet affects. These risk factors include:
- Being overweight and obese
- Having diabetes
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Having high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia).
Dietary choices can affect a person's risk for heart disease because diet directly impacts a person's weight. Because of dietary and physical activity choices, over 130 million Americans are overweight or obese. It is hard to overstate the dangers of an unhealthy weight. If you are overweight, you are more likely to develop forms of heart disease, such as heart attack, congestive heart failure, sudden cardiac death, angina (chest pain), and abnormal heart rhythm, even if you have no other risk factors.
Also, people who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop other risk factors for heart disease, including:
- High blood pressure
- High levels of triglycerides (blood fats)
- High levels of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol)
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good cholesterol")
Saturated Fat and High Cholesterol
Saturated fat in the diet has a role in increasing cholesterol and, therefore, affecting a person's risk for heart disease. A high level of saturated fat in the diet affects the chances for heart disease because it raises your LDL cholesterol level more than anything else in your diet -- even more than cholesterol itself.
Saturated fats are found most often in animal-based foods. Some plant-based foods are also high in saturated fats. Since these foods come from a plant, however, they are not considered "high cholesterol foods." Despite this, they can have a big impact on increasing blood cholesterol levels.