Unfortunately, Dr. Mara Caroline meets half of her patients when they’re already having a heart attack. An interventional cardiologist at Main Line Health’s Lankenau Heart Institute, she’d rather intervene before they land in the catheterization lab. The board-certified integrative medicine specialist believes that proactive changes can control risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes—even family history.
Diet plays a huge role in heart health. “We can’t change your family, but we can be extra aggressive in managing your lifestyle,” says Caroline. “It’s not just what you eat but when you eat.”
Caroline is an advocate of intermittent fasting, the daily practice of eating only during certain hours of the day. That improves heart health by combatting obesity and diabetes, both of which are linked to high levels of insulin. Many people who are overweight have insulin resistance, which means their levels are high all the time. “Insulin triggers fat storage, not fat burning,” Caroline says. “Even if you don’t eat for a few hours, you may not burn fat because you no longer have metabolic flexibility.”
With intermittent fasting, the absence of food triggers a gradual drop in insulin levels. It may take a week or more to see results, but Caroline encourages patients to stick with the program. “When you eat and what you eat are important,” she says. “Try intermittent fasting. You can start tonight.”
1. Pick a time period of eight-12 consecutive hours.
2. Within that timeframe, eat three small meals.
3. Do not eat outside those hours.
4. Drink water, coffee or tea.
5. Avoid sugar.
6. Stay away from white, starchy foods.
7. Eliminate processed food.
For more tips and advice, plus information on Heart Health Month, visit www.mainlinehealth.org.