The Best Diets for Heart Health, According to the American Heart Association

(CNN) According to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women worldwide, but there are ways to significantly lower your risk.

In addition to exercising regularly and not smoking, a healthy diet is an essential way to prevent heart disease. But which diet best meets the American Heart Association dietary guidelines?

In a new scientific statement, leading nutrition experts have ranked 10 popular diets based on their ability to meet the AHA’s evidence-based dietary recommendations for heart health, released in 2021.

The winner? The DASH diet, which was 100% consistent with the AHA’s goals for heart-healthy eating. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension; high blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease and stroke.

The pescatarian diet, which allows dairy, eggs, fish and other seafood, but no meat or poultry, was 92% compliant with AHA guidelines. The lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, which allows dairy and eggs, and variations that include either, were aligned at 86%.

The award-winning Mediterranean diet was 89% compliant with AHA dietary recommendations. The popular diet came in third mainly because it recommends a small glass of red wine each day and does not limit salt, said lead author Christopher Gardner, research professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California. who leads his research group on nutritional studies.

“The American Heart Association says no one should drink alcohol if they haven’t started,” Gardner said. “And if they drink, do it as little as possible.”

Research has linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer, as well as weight loss, stronger bones, a healthier heart and a longer life.

But all of these diets have so much in common that they can really be grouped into a higher “level” of eating habits, Gardner said.

“We were basically trying to say that a diet doesn’t have to be 100 to be good,” he said. “All top tier diets are plant-based, and if they’re a little off base, they’re not hard to fix. Paleo and keto, however, really can’t be fixed. You should review them completely.”

Very-low-carb diets, such as Atkins, and various keto diets, such as the well-formulated ketogenic diet, or WFKD, were at the bottom end of heart-healthy eating habits, due to the emphasis on red meat, whole dairy products and saturated fats, as well as a limited consumption of fruits and vegetables.

A vegan diet that incorporated more than 10% fat and low-fat diets such as bulking were listed at the second tier — both met 78% of the AHA’s dietary guidelines, according to the statement.

Very low fat diets with less than 10% fat, which applies to some vegan lifestyles (72%), and low carb diets such as South Beach, Zone, and low glycemic (64%) were less aligned and made up the third level of diets.

Intended for doctors

While those concerned with heart health can and should use the new AHA 10 diet rankings, the scientific statement was written for physicians, Gardner said. The goal is to bring doctors up to speed, as nutrition is often not a priority in medical school.

The best diets for heart health are primarily plant-based, according to the AHA statement.

“It’s a cheat sheet for doctors,” Gardner said. “When they ask about diet — which I think isn’t that common — and a patient says, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m paleo. I am vegan. I’m keto or I’m DASH, “I don’t think they really know what that means.”

It’s all true, said preventative cardiologist Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health, a hospital in Denver.

“We surveyed 1,000 cardiologists five or six years ago, and it turns out that about 90 percent of us know almost nothing about nutrition,” said Freeman, who was not involved in the survey. development of the AHA statement.

Still, patients need their doctors to discuss nutrition with them during regular checkups, Freeman added.

“If you asked me in my heart, do I think we should have been beating the drums about nutrition for 100 years? Yes. So every time we can be beating the drums a little bit more, I’m still in favor,” he said.

Now, with a color-coded chart in hand, doctors will be better informed to discuss which foods are on those diets and which ones to emphasize, limit or avoid, Gardner said. Instead of talking about the benefits of certain nutrients and heart-healthy foods, advice should focus on an overall eating pattern.

“When it was a single heart-healthy nutrient, you could just inject that nutrient into food and pretend it was healthy food, which it wasn’t,” said he declared. “Or if there’s a superfood like chia seeds, you can take a really unhealthy food and sprinkle chia seeds on it and say, ‘Ah, I’m protected now. No, it has to be part of an overall healthy food regimen.”

At this point, Gardner pointed out that each diet in the ranking was rated as it was intended to be eaten, not as people might in real life. The new statement provides information on how doctors can counsel patients who are not eating as optimally as possible, either due to cost, lack of time or other constraints.

However, solving these problems can take more than individual willpower, Freeman said.

“It’s hard to adhere to a diet in a society that allows ultra-processed comfort foods like bacon on a stick to be the norm, and asking society to change a major tenant of everyday life is going to be very difficult,” he said. .

“But I would also tell you that the plant-based food movement is the fastest growing food movement in the country,” he said. “So there is hope.”

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