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February is American Heart Month, a time of year for Americans to focus on their cardiovascular health.  February is also Black History Month. Black Americans are among those bearing the highest burden of cardiovascular diseases and related health consequences. Black adults in the United States die from heart disease at a rate two times higher than White adults.

Black Americans have a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease due to a complex interplay of biological, socio-economic, and lifestyle factors. Some of the key factors include:

  1. Higher prevalence of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke;
  2. Higher incidence of type-2 diabetes, which is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease;
  3. More likely to consume diets that are high in unhealthy fats which can contribute to the development of heart disease;
  4. More likely to experience high levels of stress, which can increase their risk of heart disease and stroke; and
  5. More likely to have limited access to quality healthcare and may receive fewer preventive services, which can increase their risk of heart disease and stroke.

Simple Swaps for Improving Heart Health in the Black Community

People looking to reduce their risk of death from cardiovascular disease are encouraged by the CDC to make "small swaps". These swaps include substituting vegetables for half of the starches in a meal or drinking water or seltzer instead of soda. But the most powerful small swap you can make is swapping animal fats for olive oil. 

It has recently been observed that olive oil can lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 19 percent, even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors.  Olive oil has been shown to improve outcomes with regard to blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and even mental health. [1]

“It’s possible that higher olive oil consumption is a marker of an overall healthier diet and higher socioeconomic status. However, even after adjusting for these and other social economic status factors, our results remained largely the same,” said Dr. Guasch-Ferré, the lead author of the study. [2]

The easiest ways to make the swap from saturated fats to olive oil are:

  • replace butter with olive oil for stovetop cooking;
  • swap butter for olive oil in baked goods (check out our handy butter to olive oil conversion chart );
  • dip bread in extra virgin olive oil instead of spreading with butter or margarine; and 
  • make salad dressings with oil and vinegar instead of store-bought, creamy dressings or mayo.

The Mediterranean Diet for the Black Community

Another step that can be taken to improve cardiovascular health is to follow adopt a healthy eating pattern, such as the Mediterranean diet.  As an eating pattern, the Mediterranean diet is not a really a diet, but a way of eating and living, and it can easily be adapted beyond just Greek, Spanish or Italian food. You do not need to buy any special foods, and nothing is off-limits. 

One of the NAOOA's members, Emblem Olive Oil, is a black female-owned olive oil company. The founder, Chasity Pritchett, also founded the Let's Fight Back Foundation, a program to heal people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol with extra virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean diet. 

Chasity sees olive oil as a way of closing the cardiovascular health gap for Black Americans. On her website, she states, "After studying the industry and learning the health benefits of olive oil, I also knew I wanted to help end the health disparities in my community. "

The Mediterranean diet has been named the best diet by US News for 6 years in a row. It has also been named the easiest to follow.  For more information on how to get started, visit Oldways for Mediteranean diet resources

A similar diet, called the African Heritage Diet, celebrates the culinary legacy of healthy eating for people of African descent.  The African Heritage Diet also recommends olive oil as a healthy fat.  For more information on the African Heritage Diet, check out these recipes provided by Oldways


[1] Diet Review: Mediterranean Diet (Harvard School of Public Health)

[2] Higher Olive Oil Intake Associated with Lower Risk of CVD Mortality 

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