Healthy Eating From A Cardiologist
Doctors routinely talk to their patients about the importance of healthy eating. Now, doctors say patients are asking them, “What do you eat?”
Doctors understand why patients ask the question and physicians, like Dr. Kerrilynn Hennessey, don’t mind revealing their diet. Hennessey, a cardiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, says her diet consists primarily of plant-based foods, such as vegetables and whole grains.
A plant-based diet, Hennessey says, can help lower your sodium intake to less than about two grams a day, which research shows can reduce blood pressure. It can also help control weight and appetite since the foods contain fiber.
Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, also known as Dr. Taz, explains that patients ask doctors about what they eat because patients see doctors’ busy lifestyles—handling job demands and family life—as similar to their own.
Bhatia is the medical director of her own holistic health practice in Atlanta and incorporates food as a part of prevention and cure. The doctor’s path to integrative medicine came as a result of health problems stemming from her eating habits.
Bhatia says she was swayed by the low-calorie, low-fat diet of the 1980s, and avoided eating protein and healthy fats. By the time she was 28, Bhatia says she was battling weight gain, acne, hormonal irregularities, and her hair started coming out in chunks.
After doing research on nutrition, she increased her protein intake, reduced her intake of refined carbs, and began eating nuts, avocados, olive oil, and even added cheese and butter again to her diet. In only a matter of weeks, Bhatia says she had clearer skin, more energy, lost weight, and her hair grew back within two years.
After seeing an improvement in her health, Bhatia says she began her training in integrative medicine under Dr. Andrew Weil, among the first physicians to take a holistic approach that treats the “whole” person by including all aspects of a person’s lifestyle.
What Doctors Eat and Won’t Eat
Bhatia was part of a team that explored tips, recipes, and eating plans from health professionals and noticed a pattern. While doctors have different tastes, Bhatia discovered that everyone from a brain doctor to an exercise physiologist had the same basic eating principles that included:
- Eating a pound of produce a day. Studies show that people who have a high intake of fruits and vegetables weigh less and are protected against developing cancer and heart disease.
- Eating lean protein. Doctors recommend eating fish twice a week, plant-based protein, such as lentils; and small amounts of lean meat, such as grass-fed beef.
- Pairing carbs with protein or fat. Carbohydrates, when eaten alone, turn into glucose faster than they would if they were eaten with another food that slows digestion, such as a slice of cheese or some oil and vinegar on a salad.
But, just as doctors have a pattern of eating similar foods, they also will not eat certain foods, including:
- Artificially colored foods
- Canned soups
- Diet soda
- Fast food breakfast sandwiches
- Fast food salads
- Fried foods
- Energy drinks
Surprisingly, granola is on the “won’t-eat” list because some granolas are full of sugar, specifically fructose. However, some granolas contain healthy fats.
Popular Diet Trends
Doctors are aware of the popular diet trends and some also follow them. While patients also are choosing these popular diets, doctors say some have “pros and cons” and should be followed under medical supervision. The following are five popular dieting trends:
1. Keto. This diet requires reducing carbohydrates and replacing them with fat. Among the foods to eat on a ketogenic diet include low-carb vegetables, avocados, seafood, fish, cheese, meat, poultry, and eggs.
2. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). The DASH diet promotes heart health and lowers blood pressure. The diet calls for reducing sodium intake and avoiding high-calorie, sugary, fatty foods that can elevate blood pressure and lead to heart disease, stroke, and high cholesterol. The diet plan includes eating whole grains, vegetables, lean meat, poultry, fish, legumes, and fruits.
3. Vegan. The popular vegan diet involves only plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and nuts, and eliminates animal-based foods, such as fish, meats, eggs, and other dairy products. A vegan diet appears to lower the risk of heart disease, lowers blood sugar levels, protects against certain cancers, improves kidney function, and helps in weight loss.
4. Intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is not actually a diet but more of choosing a pattern for eating and fasting at certain times. For instance, those who follow this trend may eat during an eight-hour window and fast for 16 hours or some choose to eat only one meal a day twice a week. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting improves blood pressure, boosts thinking and memory, and helps with weight loss which can reduce the risk of diabetes.
5. Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet includes a variety of vegetables, fish, poultry, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil, but only a small amount of white and red meats, and a moderate amount of dairy and fish.
In January, U.S. News and World Reports ranked the Mediterranean diet number one out of 39 best diets overall because of the variety of health benefits, such as weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control. The ratings were done by a panel of doctors, nutritionists, and dietary consultants.
The DASH diet followed, ranking number two because the “balanced diet” can be followed long term and discourages foods that are high in saturated fat, and encourages foods with acceptable ranges of protein, carbs, fat, and other nutrients they provide.
Dr. Hennessey says she “loosely” follows the Mediterranean diet because it places emphasis on nutritional foods, such as fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains, and less emphasis on dairy and meat. Nutrition, Hennessey says, is the “foundation upon which our health is built” and can determine “our risk for heart attack and stroke as well as living longer.”