After our recent post about the dangers of trans fats (Weekly Health Tip: Why Trans Fats Are the Bad Guys), a reader named Merrymaven posed a very good question: How does one reverse the effects of trans fats? Those of us who ate margarine, commercial baked goods and other trans fat-laden foods before we knew how harmful they could be can certainly change our habits now. But what about the damage trans fats may have done already? There is some evidence that such damage can be improved. In a study in Italy, patients at high risk of heart attack or stroke followed the Mediterranean diet, which is high in olives and olive oil, fresh produce, healthy grains and fish, while another group followed a different diet. After two years, those on the Mediterranean diet had fewer signs of inflammation in their arteries. In a smaller but lengthy trial in the U.S., the Ornish Lifestyle Heart Trial, men with moderate to severe coronary artery disease followed an extremely low-fat vegetarian diet. They also participated in exercise and stress management programs, and other far-reaching lifestyle changes. A control group was taking medication to lower their blood lipids. After 5 years, the men who had changed their diet and lifestyle had decreased narrowing of their arteries. Those of the control group had worsened. It seems that changing our ways can have a real impact.
Now the big fat question is, What should I eat? There is no universally successful menu plan for perfect heart health just yet. Researchers have found evidence of improved cardiovascular health among study subjects who followed low carbohydrate diets, or low fat diets, or low calorie diets. Some common factors among the most successful plans are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and forgoing saturated and trans fats in favor of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats–including olive oil and other plant oils, nuts, seeds and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Beyond that, seek balance and variety among the foods you know are healthful. Diets that severely restrict certain food groups over long periods of time are hard to sustain. Keep reading nutrition labels and thinking carefully about what you put in your body, and get plenty of exercise. Such choices improve your odds of avoiding heart disease, no matter what choices you made in the past.
See how one person’s lifestyle makeover improved his health: