Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health


Dr. Sean P. O’Rourke is a board-certified cardiologist at Watson Clinic. With a subspecialty in cardiovascular disease, Dr. O’Rourke often sees patients suffering from heart disease. He took the time to answer some questions about heart disease, which has a higher death rate in Polk County than in the rest of Florida.


Health News: Could you provide a description of the symptoms and causes of heart disease?

Dr. O’Rourke: Heart disease is a very broad category caused by dietary, environmental and genetic causes. One of the most common types of heart disease is caused by genetic factors, as well as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, lack of exercise and tobacco use. Symptoms are variable and include chest pain as well as other types of pain (neck, arm, back), palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, leg swelling, fatigue, and other symptoms.


Health News: Is diet a factor?

Dr. O’Rourke: Diet is a factor and is related to a high-calorie, high-saturated fat, high-sugar diet and lack of exercise.


Health News: Experts have suggested a Mediterranean diet for heart health. Could you tell us about this diet?

Dr. O’Rourke: It is a heart healthy eating plan that combines elements of Mediterranean style cooking and includes: Primarily plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts; replaces butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil; uses herbs and spices (instead of salt) to flavor food; limits red meat (to no more than a few times per month); emphasizes fish and poultry over other types of meat and red wine (in moderation).


Health News: What makes this diet heart healthy?

Dr. O’Rourke: This diet is a healthy because it is high in antioxidants, associated with lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol that leads to Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries). Nuts on this diet have fat, but it’s not saturated and doesn’t promote heart disease. Grains in this diet are low in trans fats. Olive oil in this diet has monosaturated (not saturated) fat, which is less likely to cause heart disease. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats contain linolenic acid, which lowers triglycerides, decreases blood clotting, improves the health of your blood vessels and moderates blood pressure.


Health News: What suggestions do you have for cardiovascular patients who are struggling with making lifestyle changes?

Dr. O’Rourke: There are multiple strategies that one practices in preventing heart disease, including: Avoid tobacco and second-hand tobacco smoke, exercise for at least 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week; and avoid saturated fat — red meat, dairy products, coconut, palm oils — and trans fat — deep fried food, bakery products, packaged snack foods, margarine, and crackers.


Health News: What local resources are available?

Dr. O’Rourke: Local resources include the local American Heart Association in St. Petersburg: 727-563-8000, the Polk County Health Department: 863-519-7900 and Watson Clinic’s Department of Cardiovascular Services: 863-680-7490.


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