Diet and Atherosclerosis

Diet and Atherosclerosis

See also: Food atherogenicity index

Atherosclerosis: Causes and Risk Factors

Atherosclerosis is a subtle disease that begins at a young age and progresses slowly to onset with often severe clinical manifestations (angina or myocardial infarction, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and pre-senile dementia). The evolution of the disease is linked to a long list of modifiable risk factors (smoking, diet, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, hypertension, viral infections, overweight) and not (sex, age and familiarity for the disease).

Correction of modifiable risk factors and lifestyle changes are the only effective means of protecting one's arteries from atherosclerosis.

Although they are valid even when the disease has already shown signs of itself, these measures are all the more effective the earlier they are adopted.

Role of the diet

The non-pharmacological treatment of atherosclerosis is mainly of a dietary-behavioral type and is based above all on compliance with some classic rules of the Mediterranean diet:

  • prefer vegetable oils to animal fats; in particular, it is good practice to consume mainly olive oil by reducing the use of butter and tropical oils (palm, coconut, etc.) in the kitchen. It is also important to drastically reduce the consumption of margarine and the foods that contain it (baked goods and sweets). The preventive role of olive oil on atherosclerotic disease has been studied for a long time and seems to be due to the interaction of several factors (good content of vitamin E, monounsaturated fatty acids and the presence of anti-inflammatory substances such as oleocanthal).
    Other vegetable oils are also particularly rich in vitamin E, a formidable antioxidant agent capable of protecting arteries from oxidative stress.
  • Increase the consumption of plant foods. Fruits and vegetables can be consumed freely in relation to individual tastes and preferences. However, it is recommended not to exceed the consumption of dried and sugary fruit (ripe bananas, figs, grapes).
    Finally, it is a good rule to consume a wide range of plant products in order to satisfy the needs of all vitamins. Among these there is one, called folic acid (vitamin B9), able to effectively counteract homocysteine, an amino acid which, if present in excess, promotes the onset and worsening of atherosclerosis, like cholesterol.
  • Meat should not be eliminated from one's diet. However, it is advisable to prefer lean cuts, giving priority to chicken, turkey and rabbit. Consuming one or two servings per week of eggs, beef or pork is healthily acceptable.
  • Increase the consumption of legumes. These foods, such as fruit and vegetables, are rich in fiber, non-digestible plant residues of primary importance in the prevention of numerous diseases, including atherosclerosis. Legumes and in particular soy are rich in lecithin which together with fiber and plant sterols reduces the absorption of cholesterol.
    Legumes contain proteins with a moderate amino acid profile and thus represent a valid alternative to meat.
  • Consume at least three servings of fish per week. Fish has undoubted nutritional advantages that make it in some respects better than meat. First of all it is much more digestible, it contains higher quality fats and some important minerals. The exceptions are crustaceans which must be eaten with caution without however demonizing them (although they are relatively high in cholesterol they are free of saturated fats and this makes them better than cuts of meat with similar cholesterol content).
    Fish is rich in iodine, an essential mineral for the thyroid gland whose deficiency in the diet favors the onset of atherosclerosis.
  • Limit the consumption of simple sugars. Sweets, snacks, sugary drinks and various snacks dangerously raise blood sugar, forcing the body to produce high quantities of insulin. A diet particularly rich in these foods alters pancreatic function in the long run, facilitating the onset of type II diabetes.
  • Don't overdo the salt. While a healthy body can handle a sodium-rich diet in the best possible way, it is important not to overdo it. Limiting the consumption of snacks and other salty foods is a great way to prevent hypertension, obesity and osteoporosis.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Do not drink more than a quarter of wine, half a liter of beer, or two small glasses a day (for very thin women or men, the quantities should be halved).
  • Limit portions by avoiding excesses. Any diet, to be defined healthy, must first of all focus on the correct caloric intake. Consuming the typical foods of the Mediterranean diet (bread, pasta, olive oil) without paying attention to portions, opens the doors of overweight. Excess weight will in turn cancel all the benefits and healthy conditions of the Mediterranean diet.

Preventing atherosclerosis

Diet is a valuable ally in the fight against atherosclerosis. However, its protection may be insufficient if important risk factors are present. Smoking is the number one enemy of our arteries as it amplifies the harmful action of cholesterol and cancels the positive action of antioxidant foods.

Another important risk factor is a sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity, on the other hand, represents a formidable means of preventing and fighting atherosclerosis. So let's see in detail what benefits can be obtained thanks to regular physical exercise:

  • increase in the capillary bed, development and strengthening of collateral circulation (natural by-pass)
  • improvement of endogenous antioxidant systems that become more active and effective in countering the free radicals produced by smoking, pollution and improper diet
  • increase in good HDL cholesterol, which "clears" the arteries of the bad cholesterol responsible for atherosclerosis

Practical advice


the number of cigarettes smoked


the maximum number of glasses of wine per day (or half a liter of beer, or two small glasses)


the minimum number of fish-based meals per week


the minimum number of legume-based meals per week


the minimum number of meals per day

5 g

the maximum limit of daily intake of hydrogenated vegetable fats; however, it is better to limit their hiring as much as possible

5 10

the minutes of general warm-up that should be done before starting the workout


the maximum percentage of daily calories provided by simple sugars

12 g

the minimum amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids to take each day


the total percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids in the diet

22 25

the level of BMI around which one must remain to be considered normal weight

30 g

the ideal intake of fiber per day


minutes at least four times a week: time to devote to physical activity


maximum heart rate: optimal training intensity

300 mg

The maximum daily cholesterol intake with the diet, to be reduced to 200mg if you suffer from high cholesterol

Other articles on 'Diet and Atherosclerosis'

  1. Atherosclerosis - Medicines for the treatment of Atherosclerosis
  2. Atherosclerosis
  3. Atherosclerosis: causes and risk factors
  4. Atherosclerosis: symptoms and treatments
  5. Supplements, foods and atherosclerosis
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