Pairing this trendy diet with intermittent fasting could save your heart

Are you following an intermittent fasting routine? When it’s time to eat, consider switching out that cheeseburger or plate of chicken parmesan for some salmon or Greek yogurt.

Intermittent fasting has become more and more popular over the past few years as a weight-loss avenue. This approach is characterized by hours spent without eating, but ultimately, everyone has to fuel their body at some point.

Many have pondered about the best diet to pair with an intermittent fasting schedule, and now a new cumulative review of prior studies has an answer – at least from a cardiovascular health perspective. 

Just released by the American College of Cardiology, the research concludes that a Pesco-Mediterranean diet paired with intermittent fasting is “ideal for optimizing cardiovascular health.” 

For reference, a Pesco-Mediterranean consists of lots of nuts, vegetables, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, and tons of fish and other seafood as the main source of protein. 

The notion that a Mediterranean diet is healthy isn’t a new one. Doctors and health organizations the world over recommend this diet as a healthy choice for those looking to improve their heart health while not sacrificing flavor. A Pesco-Mediterranean diet is very similar to a traditional Mediterranean diet, except it emphasizes more fish and seafood. 

This type of diet isn’t just linked to improved heart outcomes. Prior research has linked the Mediterranean diet to lower odds of developing diabetes, depression, cognitive decline, and even some forms of cancer.

The research team behind these findings say the Pesco-Mediterannean diet represents a favorable middle of the road approach to eating. It isn’t as plant-heavy as the vegan diet but also doesn’t include processed meats.

“Although humans are omnivores and can subsist on a myriad of foods, the ideal diet for health remains a dilemma for many people,” says lead study author James H. O’Keefe, MD, director of preventive cardiology at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, in a press release. “Plant-rich diets reduce cardiovascular disease risk; however, veganism is difficult to follow and can result in important nutrient deficiencies. On the other hand, many people in modern Western cultures over-consume meat, particularly highly processed meat from animals raised in inhuman conditions. We propose the Pesco-Mediterranean diet as a solution to this ‘omnivore’s dilemma’ about what to eat.”

The fact that a Pesco-Mediterranean diet essentially replaces all traces of butter and extra fats with extra virgin olive oil is also a big consideration in all of this.

Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to reduce levels of bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. On an actionable level, the study’s authors suggest pouring on the extra virgin olive oil when it comes to vegetable dishes. 

Additionally, the Pesco-Mediterranean diet includes lots of nuts like cashews, almonds, and pecans. One study researchers analyzed for this project concluded that daily consumption of such nuts is associated with a 28% lower risk of heart disease. That’s an incredible benefit to be had from just a few extra pistachios each day.

Circling back to protein for a moment, there’s no healthier source of protein than seafood. In fact, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that adults should do their best to eat fish instead of red meat, chicken, or eggs at least twice per week.

One prior study researchers included in this review had concluded that those who follow a strict pescatarian diet are 34% less likely to pass away from coronary artery disease than those who eat meat all the time.

What about eggs and dairy products? The role of these foods on one’s heart disease risk is still somewhat unclear. That being said, researchers say that dairy products can be included in a Pesco-Mediterranean diet, albeit with some caveats.

“There is no clear consensus among nutrition experts on the role of dairy products and eggs in heart disease risk, however, we allowed for them in the Peso-Mediterranean diet,” Dr. O’Keefe says. “Low-fat yogurt and cheeses are preferred; butter and hard cheese are discouraged due to a high concentration of saturated fats and salt. Eggs contain beneficial nutrients and can be a healthy substitute for red meat; however, we recommend no more than five yolks be consumed per week.”

Pairing a Pesco-Mediterranean diet with an intermittent fasting regimen essentially recreates the eating and dietary habits of our ancient ancestors, the research team says. So, perhaps this approach to eating agrees with the human body on an instinctual level. Also, intermittent fasting helps lower inflammation levels and strengthen insulin sensitivity.

“Our ancient ancestors did not have access to an unlimited supply of food throughout the year. Nor did they routinely eat three large meals, plus snacks, daily. Focusing on fresh whole foods, along with fish, bestows a range of health benefits, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health. The Pesco-Mediterranean diet with daily time-restricted eating is an ideal cardioprotective diet,” Dr. O’Keefe concludes.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.