What is coronary artery disease?

The vessels that bring blood to the heart are the coronary arteries. They are like narrow tubes. A fatty substance called plaque can build up in these arteries and make them narrower, so less blood gets to the heart. If you have coronary artery disease, your heart is not getting the blood and oxygen it needs to work like it should. Coronary artery disease can lead to serious healthy problems, including angina (pain or pressure in the chest) and heart attack.

Several things increase your risk for coronary artery disease including hypertension, cigarette smoking, diabetes, obesity, being male, a family history of the disease and a high cholesterol level. Although you cannot change all of the things that increase your risk for coronary artery disease, you can lower your cholesterol level by making changes in your diet.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a substance present in all of us. Our bodies make cholesterol. It is also present in meat and dairy foods. Plant foods do not have cholesterol. There are several types of cholesterol, including low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

LDL cholesterol is “bad” because it can build up on the inside of your arteries, causing them to become narrow. HDL is called “good” cholesterol because it protects your arteries from plaque build-up.

How does lowering LDL cholesterol help?

Lowering your LDL cholesterol level will help keep plaque from building up in your arteries. This makes it easier for your heart to get the blood and nutrients it needs.

If you already have coronary artery disease, your doctor will want you to lower your LDL level by at least 30 to 35-percent through diet and exercise. Some doctors may recommend medication as well. Another way to help is to increase your HDL level. If you can reduce your LDL level to less than 130 and increase your HLD level to at least 50, you are on the right track.

What foods should I add to my diet?

When trying to lower your LDL cholesterol, you want to add foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Your body turns saturated fats into cholesterol. To do this, add foods high in soluble fiber — more on that later.

There are many ways to add healthy foods to your diet. Follow the tips and serving size guidelines below:

  • Start your day out right. Have some form of grain (like whole-grain bread or whole-grain cereal) and fruit for breakfast.
  • Think of grains and vegetables as your main dish in lunches and dinners. If you are serving meat or poultry as a main dish, add a tossed salad or a vegetable to the plate.
  • Add beans to leafy salads, pasta salads and stews — chickpeas, kidney beans and navy beans tend to reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Drink fat-free or 1-percent milk — never whole milk and avoid 2-percent as well. In addition, look for low-fat yogurt and cheese.
  • Try soy products. Soy has come a long way in the last few years. Today, you can find soy products in many grocery stores and health food stores. Try vegetable-soy burgers, soy pepperoni, tofu or milk made from soy.
  • Serve raw or cooked fruits with low-fat yogurt for dessert.
  • Eat only a little oil. Use olive oil instead of corn oil and margarine. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which decreases LDL and total cholesterol levels.
  • Eat only small amounts of sweets.
  • Eat one or two servings of fish or seafood each week if you have coronary artery disease. People with coronary artery disease seem to benefit from eating fish and seafood.
  • Cook with garlic. Several studies show that garlic reduces LDL cholesterol and lowers blood pressure.
  • Eat moderate amounts of nuts that are rich in monounsaturated fat such as hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts and macadamia nuts. These nuts can improve cholesterol levels. Avoid eating nuts by the handful. Instead, garnish food with one tablespoon of chopped nuts per person.

What can I do if I have coronary artery disease?

Besides changing your diet, you should talk to your doctor about an exercise program that is right for you. If you are overweight try to lose weight — changing your diet and exercising will help you lose weight and keep it off. Talk with your doctor about reducing other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and/or diabetes.

What if changing my diet does not help?

Your body will need time to respond to changes in your diet. Your doctor will watch your progress. If your cholesterol level has not improved after two to six months, your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your cholesterol. However, you will still need to eat a healthy diet to help the medication work.


Eat less of these foods:

  • Potato chips, French fries, all “junk” foods
  • Vegetables cooked in butter, cheese or cream sauces
  • Fried foods
  • Bacon, sausage and organ meats such as liver
  • Egg yolks, cheesecake, pastries, and doughnuts
  • Ice cream, butter and/or margarine

Instead, eat more of these foods:

  • Whole-grain breads and pasta, brown rice, bagels
  • Fresh, frozen backed or steamed fruits and vegetables
  • Steamed, baked or fresh foods
  • 1-percent or fat-free milk
  • Fish, skinless poultry, lean cuts of meat with fat trimmed away, soy products and dried beans
  • Egg whites, egg substitutes, angel food cake, fig bars, animal crackers, graham crackers, air-popped popcorn
  • Low-fat frozen desserts (yogurt, sherbet, ice milk), olive oil

Cooking for a Healthy Heart

Heart disease used to be something that just happened to us. We could blame it on heredity, getting older, or any other handy excuse. Now, we know better. We know that smoking, lack of activity, and poor food choices multiply our risk for getting heart disease.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following eight essentials to a heart-healthy diet:

1. Cut back on fat.

Total fat intake should account for less than 30 percent of your daily calories.

2. Limit saturated fats.

Saturated fats should take up no more than ten percent of your daily caloric intake. The easiest way to limit these fats is to cut back on red meat, butter, and dairy fats.

3. Limit egg consumption.

Because one egg contains almost 300 milligrams of cholesterol, it is best to limit egg consumption to twice a week. Cholesterol intake should be less than 100 milligrams per 1,000 calories, not to exceed 300 milligrams per day.

4. Do not be concerned about protein.

Protein intake should make up 15 percent of daily calories. There is little reason for concern, unless you are a professional bodybuilder who requires a higher protein intake.

5. Crank up those carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates should make up 50 percent of your daily calories, with the emphasis on complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit.

6. Watch the salt.

Sodium intake should not exceed three grams per day.

7. Limit alcohol intake.

Alcohol intake should be limited to no more than two beers or two glasses of wine per day.

8. Eat a varied diet.

The wider the variety of your diet, the greater the likelihood that you are getting all of the essential nutrients your body needs.

Smart Food Shopper’s Starters

Before you head to your local grocery store, there are pre-shopping steps that can make your trip a whole lot easier, help you pick the most nutritious foods available, and help you save money to boot.

As you study the pre-shopping steps, keep these tips in mind to get started down the right aisle!

  • Know the layout of your store.
  • Check newspaper ads for foods on sale. Use discount coupons only if they’re for items you really buy.
  • Eat before shopping. If you go to the store hungry, you’re likely to buy things you don’t really need.
  • Keep a list of foods you usually buy to compare regular and sale prices.
  • Shop where there’s unit pricing to help you choose from various brands and sizes. Where unit pricing isn’t available, figure the price per ounce by dividing the price by the number of ounces in the container.
  • Compare prices of various forms of the same foods, such as canned, frozen and fresh orange juice.
  • Read labels carefully for ingredient and nutrition information. Look for the AHA heart-check mark for foods low in fat and cholesterol.
  • Beware of crushed or damaged frozen food packages. The contents may have been thawed and refrozen.
  • Pass up displays at check-out stations. They’re often items you buy on impulse rather than need.