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Every year, one in four deaths is caused by heart disease. February is National Heart Month, which brings awareness to the largest cause of death for men and women in the United States. The good news is that the Dr. Ornish’s Lifestyle Heart Trial has shown that heart disease can be prevented and reversed. By making simple changes in your diet and lifestyle, you can protect yourself against heart disease and begin to undo the damage and reverse heart disease.

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine offers clear steps you can take to prevent or reverse heart disease.


The value of science is to increase awareness of how much our choices matter each day. Dr. Ornish says:

“When we become more aware of how powerfully our choices in diet and lifestyle affect us—for better and for worse—then we can make different ones. When you make healthy choices, you feel better quickly. This allows us to connect the dots between what we do and how we feel. Feeling so much better, so quickly, re-frames the reason for changing from fear of dying to joy of living.”


The Ornish Lifestyle Medicine offers clear steps you can take to prevent or reverse heart disease by making simple changes that have powerful results.

US News and World Report has selected the Ornish diet as the #1 diet for heart health for the last five years. The selection was based on the ease of following the diet, nutrition adequacy, safety, effectiveness for weight loss, and protection against heart disease and diabetes.

It’s important to understand, however, that the Ornish approach is not a diet, but a lifestyle that is about freedom and a spectrum of choices. Foods are neither good nor bad, but some are more healthful than others. The spectrum of food choices ranges from Group 1, which is the healthiest, to Group 5, the least healthy.

Dr. Ornish’s research demonstrated that heart disease could be reversed by eating a diet that includes predominantly plant-based foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy products, with the option of nonfat dairy and egg whites. This group is abundant in vitamins, minerals and a wide range of protective substances with powerful properties to protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic diseases. Group 2 foods are still predominantly plant-based, but somewhat higher in fat, providing choices that can offer protection against heart disease and other chronic disease.

The following provides a few simple steps from the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine nutrition guidelines.

Start with A Few Simple Steps:

Choose a Whole, Plant-Based Approach

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan

The benefits of this one change have a tremendous positive ripple effect from improving your health to positively impacting our environment. Research shows that plant-based diets are a cost-effective, low-risk intervention that can decrease risk factors with marked improvement with blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight management.

A nutritional update for physicians published in The Permanente Journal notes that the benefits of a plant-based diet includes a reduction in medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. It encourages physicians to consider recommending a plant-based diet to all of their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity. The benefits include reducing risk factors for heart disease such as decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol and weight with improved blood sugar management.

By choosing whole plant foods you are not only avoiding the factors that contribute to heart disease and other chronic diseases, but also at the same time increasing the protective substances that prevent disease and promote good heart health.

Cut the Fat

The American Heart Association recommends a low-fat approach, low in saturated and trans fats and low in cholesterol for the prevention and treatment of heart disease. To begin reversing heart disease, the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Guidelines suggest limiting fat to 10% of total calories by avoiding any added fats, such as oils, nuts, seeds, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressings with oil, avocado, olives, and coconut, and omitting animal proteins with the exception of nonfat dairy and egg whites. (See also: Updated Ornish Lifestyle Medicine ) Here’s some information on the benefits.

Focus on Fiber

Fiber from whole foods has many health benefits including heart health, blood sugar control, weight management, gastrointestinal health and reduced risk of stroke, gallstones and kidney stones.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber helps to maintain a healthy digestive tract and support weight management. It is rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Soluble fiber is the type that can lower cholesterol by lowering the absorption of cholesterol into your blood stream. Food rich in soluble fiber are oats, barley, legumes, apples, berries, oranges and carrots. The link between soluble fiber and reducing the risk of heart disease is so strong that it has been established as a health claim suggesting four servings of soluble fiber foods a day.

Limit Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates

Research continues to examine the effects of sugar on heart disease and other chronic diseases. Growing evidence shows the link between sugar consumption and heart disease, diabetes and liver disease. The average American consumes nearly three times the recommended amount of added sugar every day, increasing risk for heart disease, diabetes, and underlying metabolic issues that increase risk for chronic disease. Both sugar and refined carbohydrates can increase triglycerides, blood and insulin levels, and impact risk for metabolic syndrome, which is a strong predictor of heart disease.

Include Soy

Including soy foods in your plant-based diet will benefit your heart health as well as make an excellent low-fat, cholesterol-free, nutrient-dense, plant-based protein to replace animal protein. A moderate intake of minimally processed soy foods such as edamame, tofu, and soy milk, along with fermented soy foods such as tempeh, natto, and miso offer potential protection against coronary heart disease and certain cancers.

What is one simple step you can take to a healthier heart today?

Contributed by

Carra Richling
Registered Dietitian

Eat well, be well!

Better Health Begins With You...

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