A diet rich in seafood and intermittent fasting may help your heart. Getty Image
  • A recent study indicates that the Pesco-Mediterranean diet, when combined with intermittent fasting, may lower the risk of heart disease.
  • The diet involves eating plants, nuts, whole grains, extra-virgin olive oil, and fish or seafood.
  • It limits the amount of red meat, dairy, and eggs a person eats.

Heart disease is one of the most common illnesses in the United States, and it also happens to be one of the most deadly.

Diet is one of the biggest factors in determining heart health, and a recent study published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates that one diet in particular, specifically the Pesco-Mediterranean diet, combined with intermittent fasting may lower the risk of heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States — 1 in 4 deaths in America is related to heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why this is a heart-healthy diet

A Pesco-Mediterranean diet is one that is rich in plants, nuts, whole grains, extra-virgin olive oil, and fish or seafood. It limits the amount of dairy products and eggs, as well.

Research has associated this particular diet with a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, and some cancers.

This is because the Pesco-Mediterranean diet emphasizes high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (aka “good” cholesterol), over low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (aka “bad” cholesterol).

A meta-analysis of five prospective dietary studies found that the pescatarian diet, when compared to the regular meat-eating diet, resulted in a coronary artery disease mortality rate that was 34 percent lower.

“The Pesco-Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish and/or seafood as the primary source of protein, as well as recommending sufficient intake of plants, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil,” said Dr. Anjali Dutta, cardiologist, NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group in Queens, New York.

“Some of the main nutrients in these diets, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium, are also associated with a decreased incidence of metabolic syndrome and, in turn, heart disease.”

“Compared to other diets, a more Mediterranean-based diet may be lower in calories, sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat,” said Nicole Roach, registered dietitian, Lenox Hill Hospital.

“The Mediterranean diet is lower in processed foods. By following a Mediterranean-based diet, one can expect to see positive benefits, which include, but are not limited to, increased good cholesterol, decreased bad cholesterol, lowered blood pressure. Oftentimes on the Mediterranean diet, weight loss is seen as well.”

Dutta added that a diet rich in nuts provides a significant source of protein, while also improving insulin sensitivity, vascular reactivity, and a reduction in inflammation.

Extra virgin olive oil has been studied for many years. It’s recommended due to its ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels, which can significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Consumption of fish and seafood, when it isn’t fried, is believed to reduce heart disease by providing a healthy alternative source of protein in addition to a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.

“A Pesco-Mediterranean diet is definitely a big step forward over the typical American diet that is over-reliant on animal protein from processed foods,” said Dr. Michael E. Ford, an internist at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group in the Hudson Valley.

“A Pesco-Mediterranean diet is superior to the typical American diet. And to the extent that it may be a sustainable diet for more people than a true whole food-based plant diet, it can be recommended on that basis.”

How intermittent fasting can help

But the research doesn’t end there.

The study found that combining the Pesco-Mediterranean diet with intermittent fasting provided the best results in terms of lowering the risk of heart disease.

Intermittent fasting is the practice of limiting intake of calories in a specific time window either daily or weekly.

People who follow this practice often eat all their meals between either 8 and 12 hours each day or have days during the week with very low calorie intake.

Studies have linked intermittent fasting with the reduction of inflammation, which is a condition that can lead to diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

“One of the benefits of pairing the Pesco-Mediterranean diet with intermittent fasting is that it encouraged focusing on real foods and distinct meal times as opposed to continuous grazing on packaged snack foods that often contain large amounts of added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats, which are linked with negative health outcomes,” said Arielle Leben, MS, registered dietitian at NYU Langone Health.

“It is important to note that intermittent fasting is not recommended for everyone and has not been proven more effective for weight loss than caloric restriction,” Leben said.

“However there is research to suggest that it improved cardiovascular health by improving blood pressure, glucose metabolism, and inflammation.”

It’s also a strategy for weight loss, as it tends to cut daily calorie intakes by 15 to 60 percent, and forces the body to burn fatty acids instead of glucose as the primary source of metabolic fuel.

“With regards to an associated lower rate of heart disease, the idea with intermittent fasting is that it forces the body to use fatty acids stored in excess body fat as the fuel rather than glucose,” said Ford.

“This has been postulated to improve metabolic parameters related to heart health, including by lowering inflammation. In this sense, the proposed mechanism of benefit is the same as the Pesco-Mediterranean diet and the whole foods plant-based diet.”

All experts noted, however, that people who have insulin-dependent diabetes, osteopenia, anemia, or a history of eating disorders ought to be very cautious about the amount of glucose they have available.

Before you adopt a certain diet, especially when combined with intermittent fasting, you should have a conversation with your endocrinologist or primary care physician.

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