Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for individuals seeking to enhance or preserve their physical well-being, particularly when it comes to heart health. However, with the abundance of conflicting information available online and through social media, finding the right eating plan can be challenging and confusing.
To help navigate through this maze of information and misinformation, experts have evaluated and scored the heart healthiness of various popular diets. Each diet was assessed based on the American Heart Association’s guidelines for a heart-healthy eating pattern. These guidelines emphasize the consumption of a diverse range of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins (including fish, low- or non-fat dairy, and plant proteins), non-tropical plant oils, and minimally processed foods. They also recommend avoiding added sugars, salt, and alcohol, and adhering to these guidelines even when dining out.
The diets were assigned ratings between 0-100 and placed into tiers, with the findings published as a scientific statement by the American Heart Association in the journal “Circulation.”
Tier 1: Highest-Rated Eating Plans (scores above 85) The top-tier dietary patterns best align with heart-healthy guidance, offering flexibility and a wide selection of healthy food choices.
DASH Diet – This plan received a perfect score as it adheres to all the heart-healthy guidelines. It emphasizes the consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, lean meats, poultry, fish, and non-tropical oils. Similar eating patterns include the Nordic and Baltic diets. The DASH Diet is low in salt, added sugar, alcohol, tropical oils, and processed foods. Mediterranean Diet – This pattern limits dairy consumption while emphasizing the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and extra-virgin olive oil. It scored slightly lower than the DASH Diet due to its moderate inclusion of alcohol instead of avoiding or limiting its consumption. Vegetarian/Pescatarian Diet – This plant-based eating pattern includes fish. Vegetarian/Ovo/Lacto Diet – These plant-based eating patterns include eggs (ovo-vegetarian), dairy (lacto-vegetarian), or both (ovo-lacto vegetarian).
Tier 2: Vegan and Low-Fat Diets (scores between 75-85) These eating patterns mostly adhere to heart-healthy criteria and emphasize important food groups but fell slightly short of reaching the top tier due to certain limitations.
Vegan Diet – This plant-based eating pattern excludes all animal products. The restrictions of this plan may make it challenging to follow long term or when dining out. Following a vegan diet increases the risk of certain nutrient deficiencies, which can be overcome with supplements or fortified foods.
Low-Fat Diet – This diet limits fat intake to less than 30% of total calories, including eating plans such as the volumetrics eating plan and therapeutic lifestyle change plan. Although these plans treat all fats equally, the American Heart Association’s guidance suggests replacing saturated fats with healthier fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Individuals following low-fat diets may consume excessive amounts of less healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as added sugars and refined grains. However, proper counseling and education from a healthcare professional can help overcome these challenges.
For a detailed overview of the results and to learn more about heart-healthy eating, visit Heart.org.