January 28th, 2021

Using Food to Reverse Heart Disease

You’ve heard it before: Load up on the broccoli, scale back on the burgers and fries. It’s no secret that what you eat can either help or harm your heart health.

But when you follow the diet plan laid out in the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program at Sentara, you do more than improve your heart health. This program has actually been proven to help reverse the progress of heart disease.

In just a few weeks, you can expect to see improvements in your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. And research has shown that after a year of following the diet, you can actually reverse serious artery blockages. Those who continued on it maintained their improved heart health 5 years later.

“A plant-based, whole foods, low-fat approach to eating helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, helps you maintain a healthy weight and improves overall heart health,” says Katie Abbott, MS, RDN, INHC a registered dietitian with the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program at Sentara.

What the Ornish diet looks (and tastes!) like

After you experience a cardiac event, like a heart attack, your doctor will most likely recommend you participate in a cardiac rehab program. There are two types of rehab – traditional and intensive. Intensive cardiac rehab, or ICR, is more comprehensive, focusing not just on regaining your strength but on making permanent lifestyle changes for a healthier heart.

Your cardiologist or primary care physician can refer you to the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program at Sentara Princess Anne for intensive cardiac rehab. You start with an individual assessment and then join a group of approximately 10 other participants for 9 weeks of cardiac rehab. Each week consists of 2 sessions that are 4 hours each.

One of those hours focuses on learning about Ornish nutrition. Created by world-renowned heart disease expert Dean Ornish, M.D., this nutrition plan focuses on the healthiest food groups for a lifestyle that is proven to improve heart health.

The staples of your new diet include:

  • Whole grains (like brown rice and whole wheat)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Plant-based proteins (such as beans, lentils and soy foods)
  • Egg whites
  • Nonfat dairy (such as nonfat Greek yogurt)

“We also encourage using no added oils or fats during cooking,” says Abbott. “Some fats, like olive oil, do contain monounsaturated fats that are heart healthy. But to truly reverse heart disease, the diet has to be very low in fat.”

Cutting out fat doesn’t have to mean skimping on flavor. The Ornish plan includes delicious, low-fat recipes that use healthy ingredients in innovative ways to recreate some of your favorite foods. Love creamy Italian dressing on your salad? The Ornish dressing, made with herbs, red wine vinegar and pureed white beans has a rich, satisfying texture without any fat.

How Sentara’s heart disease team can help you eat better

When you join the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program at Sentara, you’re guaranteed the support you need to successfully overhaul your eating:

  • Lunch time! (We’ll do the cooking): At each of the program’s 18 sessions, we devote one hour to nutrition. You sit down with your fellow participants for an Ornish-style lunch. During the meal, a registered dietitian introduces the foods on that day’s menu, describes how they were made, discusses the recipes and occasionally does a cooking demonstration. Expect an enjoyable, tasty meal including menu items such as:
    • Mixed greens with lemon miso dressing
    • Asian stir fry with a rainbow of vegetables and tofu served over brown rice
    • Mandarin oranges for a sweetly nutritious dessert
  • “Dear Diary”: You also keep a daily food diary to track what you’re eating. Each week during a one-on-one session, a dietitian reviews it with you to give feedback on how you’re doing and what you can improve. “The accountability of writing it down and sharing it really helps people stay on track and stay motivated,” says Abbott.

A lifestyle change – for a lifetime of health

Many participants start to see results even before completing the 9-week program. “In the first 2 or 3 weeks, people start losing weight, they feel better, have more energy and their moods improve,” says Abbott.

But to truly reverse heart disease – and stay heart healthy – this diet change needs to become part of your lifestyle. To help with that, every participant gets access to an online platform loaded with recipes and cooking videos that continue to inspire healthy eating.

And just because the program is over doesn’t mean you’re on your own. You can contact the program’s dietitian at any point for additional support, and you’re invited to come back to Sentara Princess Anne every quarter for Ornish alumni events. The goal of the program is to help you change your diet and improve your life for the long haul. The Ornish Lifestyle Medicine experts at Sentara will be here to help you throughout that journey.

Ready to take charge of your heart health? Call us at 1-757-507-8820 to speak with an Ornish program specialist.