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Preventive Cardiology Clinic

Carbs & Heart Health: Friend or Foe?

Diets low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat have long been touted as effective for weight loss. And many people who follow Atkins or Paleo do indeed lose weight. But there’s more to health than a number on a scale.

Turns out, low carbohydrate diets impair the ability of our arteries to dilate. That might not seem like a big deal, but arterial dilation — or widening of the arteries — is critical to normal body function. The only way our heart can tolerate beating faster and harder is for the coronary arteries, the ones that supply blood to the heart muscle, to dilate. So, for example, when you exercise arterial dilation ensures that the flow of oxygen and nutrients can keep up with the increased demand on the heart.

Low carb diets literally stiffen our arteries. Not exactly the best tradeoff for losing a few pounds.

So, what enhances arterial dilation? A diet rich in complex carbohydrates. Indeed, the totality of the scientific data is abundant and consistent that a high-quality, plant-based diet is the best choice for long term health, and especially heart health.

So, beans and greens, nuts and seeds, all vegetables, all fruits and all grains in their most whole and unadulterated forms should form the backbone of your dietary approach.

Dietary fads will come and go. The trick is to rise above the noise and go with common sense. From a health-promotion perspective, a bowl of blueberries will always beat a burger. We all know this instinctively. To help keep ourselves healthy, we just have to act on that instinct more consistently.


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