Your Health Tamar Raucher | 6 years ago

Diets Debunked: Which Ones Are Best For Heart Health?

A lot of diets out there claim to be the magic bullet that will make you lose weight, gain energy and look 10 years younger. But are these “healthy” diets all that healthy, especially when it comes to your heart?

A healthy heart lets you stay focused on doing what you love. What’s at the heart of it all for YOU? Join the conversation and get more heart-health tips here. We talked to cardiologist Jorge Alegria, MD, with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute, to get the scoop on some popular diets and how they’re really affecting your heart health. Paleo Diet Let’s start with the not-so-good. The Paleo diet is based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit while excluding all dairy, grain products and processed food. While this isn’t bad in and of itself, any diet so restrictive can be a red flag. “Regarding the Paleo diet, I’m not aware of any strong scientific studies that prove a heart-healthy benefit,” Dr. Alegria says. “The good concept of the Paleo diet is to avoid processed foods, which is a very positive approach, but the avoidance of whole grains and legumes is concerning due to essential nutrients that can be missed. There’s also an increase in meat consumption, which has been associated with a higher rate of cardiovascular diseases.” Vegetarian and Vegan Diets To refresh: vegetarians don’t eat meat, while those who follow a vegan diet don’t use or consume any animal products at all. According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets can reduce the risk of some types of chronic disease, including heart disease – the key words being well planned. Dr. Alegria says vegetarian diets can be healthy for most - but it’s important be careful not to go overboard with too many dairy products. Why? They can cause allergies in some people, and they often pack more sugar than most realize. “Interestingly, many experts are now saying that yogurt is the new coke,” Dr. Alegria says. “Greek yogurt, too.” As for vegan diets? “Vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy,” Dr. Alegria cautions. “You can eat a carrot and a bagel and you’ll be on a vegan diet. A well-done vegan diet can be very healthy, but there is concern of deficiencies. For example, vitamin B12, which is essential for our bodies to function well, is absent in a vegan diet.” Mediterranean Diet Now we’re getting to the good stuff. As far as heart health goes, Mediterranean diets tend to rank high. “A Mediterranean diet is a very good option,” Dr. Alegria says. “Including moderate amounts of fish has been shown to be protective from a cardiovascular standpoint. However, you have to be careful - the Mediterranean diet is much more than oils, red wine, pasta and fish. At the base of the pyramid are the plant-based foods.” Whole, Plant-Based Diet We’ve saved the best for last. “Of all the diets, a whole foods, plant-based nutrition lifestyle seems to be the best option for patients with cardiovascular diseases, based on studies showing the potential reversal (in some cases) of heart disease – specifically coronary artery disease,” Dr. Alegria says. “My patients who eat whole, plant-based foods with fish in moderation and little amounts of oils and meat feel better, their blood glucose levels are better and they look healthier. I have seen wonderful results.” Whole, plant-based foods include:
  • Vegetables and fruits, especially green leafy vegetables. Try and get five to six servings a day.
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, beans, lentils, potatoes, quinoa and other sources of plant-based proteins and starches.
  • A good source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans and tofu. “Omega-3 supplements are controversial,” Dr. Alegria says. “Rather than getting a supplement with omega-3, I encourage eating fish from non-contaminated sources.”
If nothing else, Dr. Alegria says to follow this basic rule:  “If your grandma doesn’t recognize it, don’t eat it.” We encourage heart health and education. To receive tips like these, visit