As we have seen, the word “diet” is in itself a neutral term that simply means what a person or animal eats. From the Mid America Heart Institute, cardiologist James O’Keefe states,
We’ve realized that diet is arguably the most important predictor of long-term health and well-being.
The corollary to that is, most major health problems are connected to the ways we eat. For instance, any restrictive diet that eliminates “whole macronutrient categories or food groups” carries more risk than reward. The exception of course is an underlying medical condition — like diabetes, celiac disease, or peanut allergy — that absolutely demands avoidance of certain foods.
One problem with embarking on any kind of restrictive diet is that it might turn out to be unsustainable. A person who lives in a remote area or is economically challenged may be unable to obtain the particular class of food desired, or avoid the other kinds. Also, there is the boredom factor. Someone who is very disciplined most of the time is also likely to rebel against the monotony and just go nuts once in a while and scarf down a dozen doughnuts. Even when a highly restrictive regimen that aims for weight loss is carried out successfully, “it could also contribute to the development of a disease or disorder 20 or 30 years later.”
So, what should we eat?
The Institute recommends a diet that is not “overly prescriptive” in terms of portion sizes or calorie counts. There are, of course, things that everyone would be wise to shun, like sugar, refined grains, and processed meats. The typical American diet, O’Keefe says, is rife with stuff based on white flour and/or sugar, and then highly processed and worse yet, fried, so it comes out “toxic and just highly addictive.”
Is there an ideal diet for cardiovascular health? O’Keefe and other colleagues examined this question and very recently published a report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. It appears that there is something close to ideal, and that is the pesco-Mediterranean diet. This consists, as the name suggests, of fish, along with plant-based foods and extra-virgin olive oil.
What is extra-virgin olive oil?
To be truthfully labeled extra-virgin, olive oil must be extracted by crushing, with no temperature elevation or solvents, and should come out with a pungent aroma and tasting fruity, but with a bitter edge. Its features include monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins E and K, and anti-inflammatory action. It appears to promote the health of the endothelium, or lining of the body’s blood vessels, and might help prevent unwanted clotting.
But wait, there’s more
Getting back to the paper that Dr. O’Keefe co-authored, the contents of the actual diet are only part of the story. It also involves time-restricted eating, a form of intermittent fasting. The practice is to consume all the day’s calories within a window of 8 to 12 hours, which gives the body 12 or more hours, out of every 24, to attend to other matters besides digesting food. As Dr. O’Keefe puts it,
Time-restricted eating is a great way to reduce total calories and also get inflammation and hormones back into healthy ranges.