Choose the Best Diet for Your Peripheral Arterial Disease

Expert advice on different heart-friendly diets
Grilled filet of salmon and mixed greens

Any dietary therapy for peripheral arterial disease (PAD) should reduce your intake of the types of fats associated with progression of cardiovascular disease. Ideally, these therapies would also reduce inflammation in the blood vessel wall and in your entire body.

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Assessing what can be achieved with diet therapy is important because it is part of lifestyle changes you can make to try and reduce your risk, says vascular surgeon Daniel Clair, MD.

Below are dietary recommendations based upon American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines.  Also, find a review of the research to assess the effects of dietary changes and supplementation for individuals with PAD.

Total dietary recommendations:

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  • Reduce saturated fats to no more than 5-6 percent of total calories.
  • Minimize mono-unsaturated fats (oleic acid found in olive oil) and trans-fats (found in milk, animal fats and some vegetable oils). These types of fats are specified in most foods lists of calorie sources.
  • Restrict sodium intake to no more than 1.5 to 2 grams per day (approximately 6 grams salt/day).
  • Increase dietary fiber to 25-30 grams per day.

The total effects of these dietary changes are reduced low-density, or bad cholesterol and reduction in blood pressure.

A number of diets have been assessed by the AHA and the American College of Cardiology to determine the proven effectiveness of these diets. Specifically, the following diets have had proven effects in preventing cardiovascular disease or decreasing progression of the disease. However, they have differing aims:

  • The Mediterranean diet increases good cholesterol (HDL-C) better than low-fat diets and improves quality and length of life in those who adopt it. This diet primarily consists of high proportions of olive oil; legumes, such as peas, beans and lentils; unrefined cereals; fruits and vegetables. It also includes moderate to high amounts of fish, moderate amounts of dairy, such as cheese and yogurt, and wine. It calls for very limited amounts of meat and meat products. Once again, the benefits of this diet have been proven in studies comparing this with standard diets. It is a diet that should be recommended to patients with PAD, although it has not been directly compared in patients with PAD specifically.
  • The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet limits sodium and overall fat intake, and it calls for avoidance of alcohol. There is very strong evidence this dietary modification is effective in reducing hypertension, cardiovascular disease risk and cardiovascular disease progression. While not proven specifically in PAD patients, it is clearly a diet that would help with the associated coronary artery disease. It is a recommended diet for patients with PAD.
  • The low-fat diet can improve life quality and expectancy in patients with cardiovascular disease. Once again, as with the other diets noted above, this diet has not specifically been compared exclusively in those with PAD. However, the overall benefits for cardiovascular disease in general make this a beneficial diet and one recommended for patients with PAD. This diet also benefits people with Type II diabetes and obesity.
  • The low-carbohydrate diet, especially when added to a low-fat diet, can reduce triglycerides and increase good cholesterol levels, both of which have been shown to be of benefit in patients with cardiovascular disease. These can also be recommended for people with PAD and adoption will be of benefit in reducing overall cardiovascular risk.

All these diets provide various benefits, Dr. Clair says. To choose a diet that is best for your specific needs, be sure to discuss with your doctor.

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Other diets, little data

There are also a number of other diets that have been recommended that carry a particular physician’s name as the author. The Ornish Spectrum diet and the Weil anti-inflammatory diet along with the Esselstyn diet utilize some combination of low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets along with limitations of protein intake from meats and meat products.

There is little data to guide recommendations regarding these diets, but they do appear to provide benefit by incorporating principles behind proven diets. However, little can be said about proof of their specific benefits. These diets utilize proven principles in the foods they recommend, and because the basics of these principles are proven to improve life quality and expectancy, the diets can be recommended to those with PAD.

However, these diets may prove much more challenging to adhere to than the others mentioned above, and there is no evidence they provide additional benefit.

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