Features July 2013 Issue

Give Your Heart Youth By Cutting Calories

Eating less, avoiding processed foods amps heart function.

It may seem like common sense, but recent research has confirmed that people who restrict their caloric intake have hearts that function similar to those who are 20 years younger.


Oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast is a nutritional heart-healthy way to begin your day.

By consuming 30 percent fewer calories than normal and abiding by a healthy diet, researchers found that a key measure of the heart’s ability to pump blood doesn’t decline nearly as rapidly compared to those who follow a Western-diet approach. The study, published in the journal Aging Cell (June 2012) followed 22 practitioners of a calorie-restricted diet whose average age was just over 51. By using portable heart monitors, researchers determined their hearts were better able to adapt to factors such as physical activity and stress compared to those who ate standard “Western” diets.

Overall, the study enforces what the Western diet is known for—convenience that encompasses empty calories, added sugar and trans fatty acids that places the heart at increased risk of disease, says Katherine Patton, Med, RD, CSSD, LD, Clinical Dietitian for the Women’s Cardiovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic. Yet, she explains that while it would be best to avoid all of these evil dietary culprits, incorporating small changes can make a difference in your heart’s performance.

Benefits of Living with Less
“The number one change to make is to cut back on sugary beverages, such as sodas. Those people who eliminate high-sugar drinks can lose up to one pound per week,” Patton explains. “By incorporating slow, gradual changes to your diet, you’ll be able to benefit over the long term.”

The heart is also empowered by cutting back on processed foods high in fat while increasing protein and good carbohydrates. “Another source of empty calories that is often overlooked is alcohol, which should be kept to a minimum on a daily basis,” says Patton.

Previous studies have shown that laboratory animals with a restricted calorie intake tend to live 30 to 40 percent longer than those that eat standard diets. This theory is now becoming evident in humans as research suggests calorie restriction with optimal nutrition contributes to significant changes in people that are similar to changes seen in animals.

“The effect of an improved diet isn’t seen overnight, but can make a huge difference for your heart’s long-term health,” Patton says.

Western versus Standard Diet: What’s the difference?
The standard, healthy diet, which is endorsed by the Institute of Medicine Dietary Guidelines for Americans (adults, ages 19 and older) is broken down by the following:

- Carbohydrates: 45 – 65 percent of calories
- Protein: 10 – 35 percent of calories
- Fat: 20 – 35 percent of calories

While both the calorie-restricted diet and the Western diet nutrient breakdown falls within these recommendations, the study mentions that refined foods, trans fat and salt were avoided in the calorie-restricted diet, explains Patton. “I would hypothesize that calories were lower in the calorie-restricted diet because they chose nutrient dense foods, which likely provided more fiber to keep them feeling fuller, plus this diet was slightly higher in protein making it more satiating,” she says. “The Western diet contained more empty calories from alcohol, plus more fat without restriction of trans fat, which again is empty calories.”

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