The 12 Best Diets for Your Heart

By: Guest Author | Posted on: Jan 10, 2019

This article was originally published on usnews.com by Angela Haupt and Anna Medaris Miller. View the original article by clicking here. 

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Eat your heart out, baby.

Or at least eat for your heart. While being overweight puts people at risk for heart disease and stroke, a heart-healthy diet can help you lose weight or lower cholesterol, blood pressure or triglycerides, a type of fat in blood. According to experts who rated 41 dietsfor U.S. News, these are the best diets for your heart:

No. 1 (tie) Mediterranean Diet

What can’t this eating style do? The Mediterranean diet "is one of the best-studied diets for the prevention of heart disease, and the results show that it works," one U.S. News expert said. A 2017 study of 18,991 Italians, for instance, found that the more closely people adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the lower their risk of heart disease over 4.3 years – especially if they were well-educated. The approach largely shuns saturated fat (which contributes to high cholesterol) and includes healthier mono- and polyunsaturated fats in moderation (which can reduce cholesterol). You’ll do your heart a favor by following it.

Overall rank: 1
Overall score: 4.2 out of 5

No. 1 (tie) The Ornish Diet

This rules-heavy plan is ranked highly for heart health again due to its holistic and evidence-based approach shown to help prevent and even reverse heart disease. One expert asked: "Shouldn't this be the default diet recommended by the American Heart Association" and other medical organizations? The downside of the Ornish Diet, which includes prescriptions for stress-management techniques, exercise, social support and smoking cessation, is its restrictiveness: Only 10 percent of calories can come from fat, very little of it saturated, and most foods with any cholesterol or refined carbohydrates, oils, excessive caffeine and nearly all animal products are banned.

Overall rank: 9
Overall score: 3.6 out of 5

No. 3 DASH Diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension program, or DASH, was created to help control high blood pressure – and it works. One expert called it "by far the best with data to back up lowering hypertension." Indeed, extensive research suggests it's an optimal choice if you want to lower your blood pressure as well as improve other markers of cardiovascular health. If you adopt the diet, you’ll emphasize the foods you’ve always been told to eat (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy), while shunning those we’ve grown to love (calorie- and fat-laden sweets and red meat).

Overall rank: 2
Overall score: 4.1

No. 4 (tie) MIND Diet

This plan is a mashup of two other expert-endorsed diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health(think green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine). Turns out, the heart likes the same foods, studies show. A downfall of the MIND diet: Physical activity, proven important for heart health, is not addressed in the plan, some experts pointed out.

Overall rank: 4
Overall score: 3.9 out of 5

No. 4 (tie) TLC Diet

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program, claims to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by 8 to 10 percent in six weeks. Research concurs: In one Journal of Lipid Research study, participants who shifted from a typical American diet to the TLC Diet reduced their LDL cholesterol by 11 percent after 32 days. "The TLC diet is nutritionally sound and proven by extensive research," one expert said. "It is aimed at reducing cholesterol, but would be a great diet for any average American."

Overall rank: 8
Overall score: 3.7 out of 5

No. 4 (tie) Vegan Diet

Veganism earned high marks for its potential to boost cardiovascular health. It emphasizes the right foods – fruit, veggies and whole grains – while steering dieters away from meat, dairy and salty, processed choices. In a 12-year study that compared 6,000 vegetarians (including vegans) with 5,000 meat-eaters, for example, researchers found that the vegans in the group had a 57 percent lower risk of ischemic heart disease than the meat eaters. (The condition involves reduced heart pumping due to coronary artery disease and often leads to heart failure.) Just keep in mind that vegans may need to take supplements to get some heart-protective nutrients like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.

Overall rank: 20
Overall score: 3.1 out of 5

No. 7 Flexitarian Diet

Flexitarian is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian. The plan revolves around the idea that you don’t have to eliminate meat completely to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism; an occasional burger is OK. One large 2015 study of more than 450,000 Europeans found that those who ate a diet of at least 70 percent plant-based foods had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who were least "pro-vegetarian." Earlier research suggests a semi-vegetarian diet also helps promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As a bonus, it's good for the environment, one reviewer pointed out.

Overall rank: 3
Overall score: 4 out of 5

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