What are the best diets for heart health?
As a cardiologist with a special interest in cardiovascular disease prevention, I often encounter questions from patients about the risks and benefits of different diets. Let’s take a quick look at some popular diet plans and how they impact cardiovascular health.
The Mediterranean diet is low in red meat, sugar, processed foods and saturated fat, and high in produce, nuts and other healthful foods. It offers a host of health benefits, including weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention and diabetes prevention and control.
The DASH diet, which stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension,” is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. It emphasizes the foods you have always been told to eat (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy), which are high in nutrients such as potassium, calcium, protein and fiber, all of which can lower blood pressure.
DASH also discourages foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy foods and tropical oils, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. Following DASH means capping sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day.
Cardiac benefits of the Mediterranean and DASH diets:
- Intake of total fruits and vegetables has been inversely associated with risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Marine fish (salmon, herring, tuna) are rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to reduce arrhythmias, thrombosis, inflammation and blood pressure, as well as favorably modify the lipid profile.
- Nuts and legumes are beneficial through their high unsaturated fat, fiber, micronutrient and phytochemical content.
- Extra virgin olive oil provides a host of health benefits including decreased blood pressure, lower inflammation and higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
The ketogenic or “keto” diet may be associated with some improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and HDL cholesterol levels, but these effects are usually limited in time. The keto diet may result in weight loss and lower blood sugars, but often it’s not sustainable.
Most cardiologists would not recommend the keto diet to their patients because it restricts fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy that can help with long-term weight loss and overall health.
Intermittent fasting improves multiple areas of cardiovascular health, including blood pressure; resting heart rate; levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and insulin; and insulin resistance. Consult a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure your nutritional needs are being met.
The most prescribed diets with the best evidence to support reduction in cardiovascular risk are the Mediterranean and DASH diets. They have been linked to lower risk of mortality from coronary artery disease and cardiovascular disease.
The best diet in general is the one you can implement and sustain.