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Q
Meals Designed for Heart Health?

What is a "polymeal?"  I'm told it reduces the risk of heart disease.

A
Answer (Published 4/26/2005)

"Polymeal" is a term coined by a group of researchers who recently published a study suggesting that eating a combination of certain foods daily could lower the risk of heart disease and add several years to life expectancy. The term itself is borrowed from "polypill," a concept introduced in 2003 by a British researcher who suggested developing a pill combining cholesterol and blood pressure lowering medications with aspirin and folic acid to protect against heart disease. (Folic acid, a B vitamin, lowers blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with a higher risk of heart disease.)

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The "polymeal" concept, published in the December 18/25, 2004 issue of the British Medical Journal, advocates eating foods that have been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. It would include drinking about 2/3 of a cup of wine daily, which has been shown to reduce heart disease by 32 percent; eating fish four times a week, which lowers the risk by 14 percent; eating about 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily; as well as consuming about 14 ounces of fruits and vegetables daily, which can help reduce blood pressure. It also calls for garlic and almonds in your diet to aid in cholesterol control.

The research team estimated that those who combine the foods listed into daily polymeals may lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 76 percent. They calculated that this would add more than six years to the lives of men age 50 and older and five years to the lives of women age 50 and older.

As you know, I've long advocated increasing consumption of fish (particularly wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, black cod, and herring), fruits and vegetables, and garlic to promote good health. And I recommend eating dark chocolate and almonds (as well as my other favorites, walnuts and cashews) as long as you remember that they are high in calories and consume them in moderation. As far as wine is concerned, my feeling is that if you don't drink, you certainly shouldn't start for health reasons. I would add daily exercise and a relaxation practice to the polymeal prescription - they are as important to heart health as the foods you choose.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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