“You can look at the major risk factors for having a heart attack – blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity and cholesterol – and while they’re all important, your biggest risk factor for heart attack is cholesterol,” said Edward Skillen, DO, cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists, Inc. a Bon Secours Heart and Vascular Institute specialist practice.
Roughly 75 percent of the world’s population are part of a culture that does not have heart disease. Their cholesterol levels are under 150, with LDL (low density or bad) cholesterol under 70, and diet is a primary factor.
In diets found in many Asian cultures, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts are staples, and they eat virtually no animal protein. On the other hand, the typical American diet is loaded with animal protein, simple sugars and processed food. That combination of low nutrition, high calories and elevated saturated fats is one that makes Americans susceptible to heart disease.
“I want people to understand the cause of the problem, so they can do something about it,” said Dr. Skillen. “I’ve become a vegetarian to decrease my risk of developing a heart attack. It has been effective for me, but if you can’t adjust to a vegetarian diet, you can take smaller steps to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol below 70, like exercising and eliminating the ‘junk’ from your diet.”