A Pesco-Mediterranean diet rich in plants, nuts, whole grains, extra-virgin olive oil, and fish and/or seafood is ideal for optimizing cardiovascular health, according to a review by researchers at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute. Intermittent fasting is also recommended as part of this diet.
The traditional Mediterranean diet, endorsed by North American guidelines, consists of fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, whole grains, seeds, nuts, fish/seafood, olive oil, and moderate amounts of dairy products (yogurt and cheese) and eggs.
Many observational studies and randomized clinical trials have indicated that a Mediterranean diet is associated with lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, depression and some cancers.
Previous studies have also supported including fish, at least twice a week, as a part of a heart-healthy diet.
A pescatarian diet includes fish and/or seafood as the primary source of protein and minimizes eating red meat or poultry. A previous review of five observational studies found that compared to regular meat-eaters, death from coronary artery disease was 34% lower in those following a pescatarian diet.
What is a Pesco-Mediterranean diet?
This eating pattern also emphasizes using extra-virgin olive oil in place of butter or other fats. Extra-virgin olive oil is a higher-quality, unrefined olive oil, and has been shown to have cardiometabolic benefits, such as reducing LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol. The researchers recommend using generous amounts of extra-virgin olive oil, also high in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, along with vegetable dishes.
To provide an additional source of healthy fats and fibre, the Pesco-Mediterranean diet includes nuts.
There is no clear consensus on the role of dairy products and eggs in heart disease risk, however the researchers allowed for them in the Peso-Mediterranean diet. Low-fat yogurt and cheeses are preferred; butter and hard cheese are discouraged due to their high content of saturated fat
Eggs contain beneficial nutrients and can be a healthy substitute for red meat. However, the researchers recommend no more than five yolks per week.
How does intermittent fasting fit in?
Intermittent fasting, the practice of limiting daily food intake to a specific 8 to 12 hour window has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity by forcing the body to switch from burning glucose (sugar) to fatty acids (usually from abdominal fat) as the primary metabolic fuel.
The most common form of intermittent fasting is timed-restricted eating, consisting of eating meals within a six to eight hour window early in the day (e.g., 7 am to 3 pm or 9 am to 5 pm).
Evidence regarding time-restricted eating is preliminary and requires more research.
Source: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, September 2020.
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