Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Disease: How Your Diet Can Help
What is coronary artery
The vessels that bring
blood to the heart are called the coronary arteries. They are like narrow tubes.
A fatty substance called plaque can build up in these arteries and make them
narrow, so less blood gets to the heart. This is called coronary artery
disease. If you have coronary artery disease, your heart isn't getting the blood
and oxygen it needs to work like it should. Coronary artery disease can lead to
serious health problems, including angina (pain or pressure in the chest) and
Several things increase
your risk for coronary artery disease, including high blood pressure, smoking,
diabetes, obesity, being male, a family history of the disease and a high
Although you can't
change all of the things that increase your risk for coronary artery disease,
you can lower your cholesterol level by making changes in your diet (see the box
below), and you can quit smoking (if you smoke
Cholesterol is a
substance present in all of us. Our bodies make cholesterol. It's also present
in meat and dairy foods. Plant foods don't have cholesterol. There are several
types of cholesterol, including low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density
LDL cholesterol is
called "bad" cholesterol because it can build up on the inside of your arteries,
causing them to become narrow from plaque. HDL is called "good" cholesterol
because it protects your arteries from plaque buildup.
How does lowering LDL
Lowering your LDL
cholesterol level will help keep plaque from building up in your arteries. This
makes it easier for your heart to get the blood and nutrients it needs.
If you already have coronary artery
disease, your doctor will probably want you to lower your LDL level by at least
30 to 35% through diet, exercise and, possibly, medicines. Another way to help
is to increase your HDL level. If you can reduce your LDL level to less than 130
and increase your HDL level to at least 50, you're on the right
What foods should I add to my
When trying to lower your LDL
cholesterol, you should add foods to your diet that are low in cholesterol and
saturated fats, because your body turns saturated fats into cholesterol. To do
this, eat foods that are high in soluble fiber (see the box below).
Eat less of these
- Potato chips, french fries and other "junk"
- Vegetables cooked in butter, cheese or cream
- Fried foods
- Whole milk
- Bacon, sausage and organ meats (like liver) and
- Egg yolks
- Cheesecake, pastries, doughnuts, ice
- Butter and
more of these foods:
- Whole-grain breads and pasta, brown rice,
- Fresh, frozen, baked or steamed fruits and
- Steamed, baked or fresh foods
- 1% or fat-free milk
- Fish, skinless poultry, lean cuts of meat (with
fat trimmed away), soy
- Egg whites, egg substitutes
- Angel food cake, fig bars, animal crackers,
graham crackers, air-popped popcorn, low-fat frozen desserts (yogurt, sherbet,
- Olive oil or canola oil (in small
There are lots of
ways to add healthy foods to your diet. Follow the tips and the serving-size
- Start your day out right. Have some form of grain
(like whole-grain bread or whole-grain cereal) and fruit for breakfast.
- Think of grains and vegetables as your main dish
in lunches and dinners. If you're serving meat or poultry as a main dish, add a
tossed salad or vegetable to the plate.
- Add beans to leafy salads, pasta salads and
stews--chick peas, kidney beans and navy beans have been shown to reduce LDL
- Drink fat-free or 1% milk, not whole milk or 2%
milk. Look for low-fat yogurt and cheese, too.
- Try soy products. Soy has come a long way in the
last few years. Today, you can find soy products in many grocery and health food
stores. Try veggie-soy burgers, soy pepperoni, tofu or soy milk.
- Serve raw or cooked fruits with low-fat yogurt
- Eat only a little oil. If you want to use oil for
cooking, try olive oil or canola oil instead of oils high in polyunsaturated
fats, such as corn oil, peanut oil and many margarines. Both olive oil and
canola oil are high in monounsaturated fat, which decreases LDL and total
- Eat only small amounts of sweets.
- Eat 1 to 2 servings of fish or seafood each week
if you have coronary artery disease. People with coronary artery disease seem to
benefit from eating fish and seafood.
- Cook with garlic. Several studies have shown that
garlic reduces LDL cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.
- Eat moderate amounts of nuts that are rich in
monounsaturated fat, like hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts and
macadamia nuts. These nuts have been shown to improve cholesterol levels. Avoid
eating nuts by the handful. Instead, garnish food with one tablespoon of chopped
nuts per person.
else can I do if I have coronary artery
Besides changing your
diet, you should talk to your doctor about an exercise program that's right for
you. If you smoke, quit. If you're overweight, try to lose weight (changing your
diet and exercising will help you lose weight). Talk with your doctor about
reducing other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or
What if changing my diet
Your body will need
time to respond to changes in your diet. Your doctor will watch your progress.
If your cholesterol level hasn't improved after 2 to 6 months, your doctor may
prescribe medicine to lower your cholesterol. However, you will still need to
eat a healthy diet to help the medicine work.