Best Diets for Heart Health

To kick off American Heart Month a little early, we are starting with a blog written by one of UNF’s nutrition undergrads. Enjoy!

Best Diets for Heart Health

By Rachel Mariano

heart-heath-best-dietsThe month of February is all about hearts. I am not talking about heart-shaped chocolates and other yummy Valentine’s Day treats; I am referring American Heart Health Month. It is a great time to increase awareness of your heart health and make sure you have daily habits that will promote a lifetime of heart health.

The American Heart Association has published dietary recommendations to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. The focus is on the importance of eating nutritious foods from all food groups including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, poultry, fish, nuts, legumes, and vegetable oils.

Every year, the U.S. News and World Report gathers health and nutrition experts to create a list of the most Heart Healthy diets. These diets may help people lose weight, lower cholesterol and triglycerides, and blood pressure – all things that can decrease risk of heart disease.

The top three diets are (1 – a tie!) The DASH diet and The Ornish Diet (3) TLC diet and (4) The Mediterranean Diet. All of these diet and eating patterns focus on low saturated fat, low sugar, and high amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Each diet also recommends some sort of physical activity built into weekly activities.

The DASH Diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute developed this diet to serve as a guide for how much and which types of foods to eat while easily reducing salt intake. This diet is designed to lower – or prevent – high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

One example of a DASH diet plan for a 2,000 calorie diet would include

  • 6-8 servings of grains
  • 4-5 servings of each fruits and vegetables
  • 2-3 fat free or low fat dairy
  • No more than 6 servings of lean meat or poultry
  • 2-3 servings of fats and oils
  • 4-5 servings (per week) of nuts, legumes, or seeds
  • No more than 5 servings of sweets a week
  • Sodium below 2,300 mg with a goal of 1,500 mg a day

The Ornish Diet

Dr. Dean Ornish promotes a strict diet that he claims can reverse heart disease. The diet ranks foods into five groups from most to least healthful and emphasizes eating the top-ranked foods and limiting the low-ranked foods to improve health.

Here are some of the common guidelines based on theses rankings of food:

  • Low fat (no more than 10% of calories from all fats)
  • No cholesterol, refined carbohydrates, or oils
  • Limited caffeine consumption
  • No animal products besides egg whites and 1 cup of nonfat milk a day
  • Lots of fiber and complex carbohydrates

Though this diet does produce many positive results to fight cardiovascular disease it is extremely limited. It does not offer much room for other foods when followed strictly. If you follow this diet, you most likely will see results in improved health and weight loss. However, this diet may not be realistic for the long-term for many people. This diet has produced varying results when it is not followed strictly.

TLC Diet – Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet

The TLC diet emphasizes lowering high cholesterol and consists of minimal meat, low fat and nonfat dairy foods, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The diet focuses on cutting back fat – mainly saturated fats which increase the risk for heart disease. Saturated fats should make up no more than 7% of your calories. This is done by choosing low fat dairy foods and eating less butter and fatty meats. The diet is also rich in fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with a target of 10-25 grams of soluble fiber to help lower cholesterol.

Mediterranean Diet

I have saved my favorite diet last. The Mediterranean diet is adapted from Mediterranean countries where people tend to live longer and healthier lives. This diet is low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fats but high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Individuals who follow this diet may experience weight loss, improved heart and brain health, decreased risk of cancer, and diabetes prevention.

The Mediterranean Diet is not really a “diet” because there are not strict guidelines to follow, rather there are patterns and recommendations so it is easy to tailor this diet to your own personal preferences. Some of the major guidelines are as follows:

  • Consume lots of
    • Fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Beans
    • Nuts
    • Legumes
    • Olive oil
    • Herbs and spices
    • Fish and other seafood
  • Consume a moderate amount of
    • Poultry
    • Eggs
    • Cheese
    • Yogurt
  • Consume on Special Occasions
    • Sweets
    • Red Wine

Focusing on overall health is important to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. Whether you choose to follow one of the diets or not – remember that any steps towards healthier food choices lead you closer to better heart health.

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