Cardiovascular Disease

Information, Diet Suggestions, and Resources


Cardiovascular disease occurs when either the heart or its blood transport system (veins/arteries) are not working properly.

Cardiovascular disease, including congestive heart failure (CHF), high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and heart attack, is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women in the United States.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition in which the heart is not able to function normally and its ability to pump blood out to the rest of the body is impacted. Heart failure can result from a number of different conditions that can affect both the right and left side of the heart. In CHF the inability to pump blood efficiently causes fluid to build up in the lungs or other parts of the body such as the extremities, causing shortness of breath and/or edema (swelling), and  fatigue. A common recommendation for the treatment of this condition is a series of lifestyle changes such as cessation of smoking, limitation of alcohol, limitation of salt, and water restriction.

High Blood Pressure

Several other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, can lead to heart disease. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the body’s arteries. In general, the narrower the artery, the higher the blood pressure. High blood pressure occurs when the pressure within an individual’s artery is higher than the normal range (120/80), forcing the patient’s heart to work harder in order to pump blood out to the rest of the body. Causes of high blood pressure include poor diet, including excessive salt intake, limited exercise, and cigarette smoking. There are also genetic and ethnic factors that contribute to the occurrence of high blood pressure as well. Lifestyle changes that may reduce blood pressure are weight loss if overweight, limiting alcohol intake to 1 drinks for women and 2 drinks for men/day.

Coronary Artery Disease/Elevated LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries, can be caused by elevated low-density lipoproteins (LDL), a component of cholesterol. In this case, plaque builds up along the inner lining of arteries that have been damaged due to factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or fats and cholesterol in the blood. The plaque hardens and can rupture. Blood platelets then adhere to the injury site, narrowing the artery even further and sometimes, causing blood clots. When arteries are blocked by low density lipoproteins, blood cannot travel through or move throughout the body. Complications of high LDL in cholesterol include peripheral arterial disease and angina (chest pain), and serious cardiovascular events, including heart attack, and stroke, among others. It is extremely important to reduce the risk of these events by controlling cholesterol through diet, exercise, and often, pharmacological medication.

The Diet

To help prevent heart disease it is important to follow a heart healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, heart healthy fats, low fat dairy products and limit foods high in added fats and sugar. This diet, which encourages the intake of foods high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, has been labeled the DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. For example, blueberries, baked potatoes, beets, and skim milk are all considered DASH superfoods. On the DASH diet, foods high in added fats and sugar, refined carbohydrates, are eliminated or drastically reduced.

 When following the DASH diet, one doesn’t have to banish sweets entirely-just go easy on them, with a goal of five or fewer servings per week. Examples of one serving include 1 tablespoon of sugar, jelly, or jam, ½ cup of sorbet, or 1 cup (8 oz.) lemonade. When you eat sweets, choose those that are fat-free or low-fat, such as sorbets, fruit ices, jelly beans, hard candy, graham crackers or low-fat cookies. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) and sucralose (Splenda) may help satisfy your sweet tooth while sparing the sugar. But remember that you still must use these products sensibly. It’s OK to swap a diet cola for a regular cola, but not in place of a more nutritious beverage such as low-fat milk or even plain water. Also, cut back on added sugar, which has no nutritional value but can pack on calories.

In addition, as a component of the treatment for Cardiovascular Disease, you should limit the sodium that you ingest from food and beverages to 1500 -2,000 milligrams per day. However, this generalized range may vary depending on your age and the recommendations of your healthcare provider. To determine your total daily salt intake, read the nutrition label on the foods that you are eating to determine the sodium content of one serving of a food. Packaged or processed products considered low in sodium will contain less than 140mg sodium per serving. Processed foods, such as canned fruits and vegetables, soups, and frozen foods tend to contain a high salt content due to the addition of salt as part of the food processing/preservation process. Therefore, try to avoid packaged or processed food products.

To improve your cardiovascular health, the recommended fiber intake for those under 50 years is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, and for those over 50 are 30g for men and 21 grams for women.