There are various conditions to think of when you talk about heart health risk. Many people are familiar with diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal waist size, and abnormal cholesterol.  In functional medicine, we use a different lens, focusing on the things that tie cardiovascular disease to metabolic disease.  This includes things like inflammation, insulin resistance, and stress.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a food plan that addressed both cardiovascular risks, and metabolic disease risks?!?!  That’s where the cardiometabolic food plan comes in.  If you’re someone with an increased risk of developing heart disease due to current risk factors or genetics, you already know how important it is to live a lifestyle that manages and reduces that risk, rather than having a lifestyle and diet that perpetuates those risks.  Because remember, while genes may load the gun, it’s diet and lifestyle that pull the trigger.

Let’s dive into some key elements of a Cardiometabolic Food Plan to figure out if…

  1. this is a nutrition plan that supports heart health and decreases genetic risk
  2. this is an ENJOYABLE diet plan, which makes diets more sustainable long-term

What is the Cardiometabolic Food Plan?

The cardiometabolic food plan is full of nutrient-dense foods, focusing on foods that support heart health.  It is a nutrition plan that aims to give your body the key nutrients it needs to achieve your best heart health, while avoiding things that can have negative heart health effects, with some examples to avoid being ultra processed foods or heavily salted, “bad” fat containing foods.  Similar nutrition plans have been shown in studies1, 2 to decrease heart disease risk by up to 40%.

The plan adheres to a variety of principles, guides for the individual to apply to their diet that help support heart health. These include:

Low glycemic impact
Not all foods have the same impact on blood sugar and insulin

High in fiber
Only ~5% of the US population gets the recommended amount of daily fiber  

Increasing intake of whole foods, such as:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes
  • Oily fish
  • Plant proteins, including soy products

Limiting intake of:

  • Processed foods high in sugar, added sugar, or salt
  • Red and processed meat
  • Sweetened beverages
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Alcohol

The Overall Goal

These principles aim to lower the intake of the foods that we now know increase risk markers for developing heart disease, and to increase intake of foods that we know have shown to positively impact the body, the cardiovascular system, and the heart.

What does “processed food” mean, and what does it mean for our heart health?

Processed foods are foods that have been altered in some way during the preparation process. This can include food items like tinned goods, baked goods, dried herbs, candy bars, breakfast cereal, biscuits, the list goes on…

The problem with processed food comes when we highly process that food. You can tell how processed a food product is by trying to visually identify all of the ingredients inside. You can also generally tell if a food is highly processed by how long the ingredient list is.

For example, it takes about 5 ingredients to make bread, however, store-bought bread will often have many more ingredients to extend the shelf life of the product and make it taste better, often using sugar to do so.

And how do these processed foods affect us, exactly?  Well, a 2021 publication3 showed that those with the highest processed food intake had 31% higher risk of obesity, 37% higher diabetes risk, and an incredible 60% higher risk of high blood pressure, all as compared to those who had the lowest processed food intake.  

How To Identify Highly-Processed Foods

If you know what you’re looking for, it isn’t too difficult to identify highly processed foods. When shopping, ask yourself:

  • Can I identify the ingredients in this food by looking?
  • How long is the ingredient list compared to its homemade version?
  • Can I identify all of the ingredients in the list?
  • Does it have added sugar? If so, why and how many types of sugar?

Glancing at the length of the ingredient list is often enough to identify highly processed vs processed or whole foods. When you find a highly processed food, take a look around for other less processed variations by looking for shorter ingredient lists with more familiar ingredients.

Adding Whole Foods To Your Diet

To replace the highly processed foods, look out for more whole foods that promote heart health, like…

  • Colorful fresh (or frozen) whole fruits
  • Variety of non-starchy vegetables, like
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Salad Greens
  • Squash
  • Tomato

And more… Essentially, make sure to eat the rainbow!  A simple rule of thumb is five colors on your plate, per meal, mostly grown in the ground!

  • Whole grain products, like
  • Whole Grain Bread, Pasta, and Rice (also considering gluten free options)

These include more beneficial fiber compared to refined grains like white bread.

Oily Fish, like

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies

Preferably, purchase your proteins without any sauces so that you’re more in control of the ingredients on your plate.

Nuts and roasted nuts (check the ingredients for low salt options)

Legumes, like

  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Lentils
  • Black Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Fava beans

Need help implementing these new principles into your life? We have nutritionists who help our clients curate a diet that tackles their specific health goals in a way that works for their unique life. You can start a trial today to find out if Index Clinic is the next stop on your health journey.