Note: The following information is neither a substitute for regular medical checkups nor a substitute for discussing your general health and nutrition needs with your physician or health care provider. For more information on reducing your risk of heart disease, visit the Web site of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality for both men and women in the United States. Genetic, environmental and dietary factors play major roles in developing coronary artery disease. Heart disease usually affects women about 10 years later in life than men—at about 55 years of age, or after menopause—because estrogen plays a protective role in younger women. With increasing age, arteries become thicker and less elastic. If the buildup of cells, fat and cholesterol further harden and narrow arteries and cut off blood flow, a stroke or heart attack may result.
To protect your heart early in your life:
- Control known risk factors such as high blood pressure and high levels of blood cholesterol.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Stay active.
- Stop smoking if you haven’t already.
- Find ways to relax and enjoy life.
Food choices play an important role in modifying the risk for heart disease. Although dietary recommendations have tended to focus on the role of fat as the basis for a heart-healthy diet, research continues to discover the benefits of a total-diet and food-based approach, such as the eating plan from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/).
The DASH eating plan follows guidelines to limit saturated fat and cholesterol and increases foods rich in nutrients to lower blood pressure through minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium. The DASH eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products, fish, poultry and nuts. It is lower in lean red meat, sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages compared to the usual American diet.
The DASH eating plan recommends a certain number of servings from various food groups depending on caloric need. On 2,000 calories a day, 8–10 servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended. Make one of your fruit selections dried plums.
Dried Plums and Heart Health
Numerous studies have looked at the role of dietary fiber in lowering blood cholesterol. Soluble fiber, including oat bran, pectin (found in dried plums) and psyllium, have been shown to decrease blood cholesterol levels. Research at the University of California, Davis, demonstrated that men with moderately elevated cholesterol levels experienced a reduction in both total and LDL cholesterol after eating 100 grams (10–12) dried plums daily (about 6-7 grams of dietary fiber). An animal study subsequently showed that isolated dried plum fiber significantly lowered cholesterol and helped establish dried plums’ potential to lower serum cholesterol and the risk for heart disease.
Daniel D. Gallaher, Ph.D., Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota, used a mouse model to explore the effect of dried plums on the development of atherosclerotic plaque directly. Dried plum powder, fed at the equivalent of 10–12 dried plums daily, significantly reduced atherosclerotic lesions in the animals. There was no change in cholesterol levels, suggesting that dried plums had a direct effect on the progression of the disease in ways other than lowering cholesterol. Additional research is needed to determine the cause of this effect.
In an animal model of postmenopausal hormone deficiency, dried plums suppressed a rise in blood cholesterol without affecting HDL (good) cholesterol associated with the onset of menopause, according to a study conducted at Oklahoma State University. The study showed that including the equivalent of about 10–12 dried plums in the diet of ovarian-hormone-deficient animals prevented the rise in total and non-HDL blood cholesterol levels. Postmenopausal women who are not on HRT and who are seeking ways to lower total cholesterol might consider including fiber-containing foods, such as dried plums, in their daily food choices.
Tinker, L.F., Schneeman, B.O., Davis, P.A., Gallaher, D.D., Waggoner, C.R. "Consumption of Prunes as a Source of Dietary Fiber in Men with Mild Hypercholesterolemia." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53 (1991): 1259–1265.
Tinker, L.F., Davis, P.A., Schneeman, B.O. "Prune Fiber or Pectin Compared with Cellulose Lowers Plasma and Liver Lipids in Rats with Diet-Induced Hyperlipidemia." Journal of Nutrition 124 (1994): 31–40.
Gallaher, C.M. and Gallaher, D.D. "Dried Plums (Prunes) Reduce Atherosclerosis Lesion Area in Apolipoprotein E-deficient Mice. " British Journal of Nutrition 2009;101(2):233-239.
Lucas, E.A., Juma, S., Stoecker, B.J., and Arjmandi, B.H. "Prune Suppresses Ovariectomy-Induced Hypercholesterolemia in Rats." Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 11 (2000): 255–259.