Feb. 7, 2019 — It’s the leading cause of death in the U.S., yet it’s nearly completely preventable. Cardiovascular disease is an epidemic with no signs of slowing down, and it’s led Fort Myers-based cardiologist Brian Taschner, M.D. ’98, to devote his career to both treating his patients and educating them on ways to improve diet and lifestyle with hopes of preventing the disease.
“Eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking, making sure your sleep habits are good, working on mindfulness to minimize stress, having a good social support system — these are things that healthy populations practice,” Taschner says. “For many people, these are very hard to accomplish. But they are effective measures to help combat chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.”
According to Taschner, a key part of living heart-healthy is adopting a plant-based diet. Though not equivalent to a vegan diet, a plant-based diet involves consuming more whole fruits and vegetables, which contain vital nutrients like dietary fiber that can reduce common chronic diseases.
“This diet means eating healthier whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans while minimizing oil, salt, sugar, processed foods and animal protein,” Taschner says. “If you look at the healthiest populations in the world, they eat nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and leafy vegetables that are local, which often have more nutritional valuebecause they are picked at peak ripeness and are consumed closer to the time they are picked. Not everything has to be organic.”
Reducing one’s intake of animal proteins and other processed foods alone will have an impact on heart function, he says.
“Animal protein contains a lot of saturated fat and other mechanisms causing inflammation that can lead to vascular disease and cancer,” he says. “Eating too much processed food causes people to gain weight, which causes multiple cardiac conditions like heart arrhythmia as well as diabetes and sleep apnea.”
On Taschner’s website, Vibrantbeat.com, he offers many recipes with nearly all their ingredients available in the produce section of the supermarket. When perusing the produce, he advises his patients, think of all the colors of the rainbow. Each fruit and vegetable gets its unique color from the mix of phytochemicals and micronutrients contained within, which often produce antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
“Eating the rainbow is about diversifying the diet. Think about consuming a whole symphony of these different nutrients,” he says.
Of course, Taschner recognizes that sticking to heart-healthy foods day in and day out is no picnic. Instead, he offers a compromise.
“I tell patients, try to be 80-90 percent good,” he says. “If you’re going to go out on the weekends, it’s fine to treat yourself once in a while. But, if you can focus on healthy foods and minimize other kinds of foods the majority of the time, that’s ideal.”
The advice isn’t just for patients; Taschner aims to live up to the same standards in his personal life by regular exercise and maintaining a plant-based diet himself.
“I try to live what I preach,” he says. “I aim to live a healthy lifestyle, eat well, exercise all the time and do sports. That’s my passion. I try to live it and set a good example.”
Taschner says the ability to juggle a multi-faceted, busy life was a skill culled from his time at the UF College of Medicine, where he was a member of the UF Junior Medical Honors Program and where he met his wife, pediatrician Kavitha (Sundar) Taschner, M.D. ’98.
“Medical school was the first time in my life when I had to persevere despite a lack of control over my schedule. I had to learn how to adapt in order to have a good quality of life, to stay positive and energetic while trying to balance sleep, exercise, relationships and lifestyle with my studies,” he says. “That’s a lesson that carries through to the rest of your life.”