The AHA Ranks Popular Diets from Best to Worst with Few Surprises
May 10, 2023
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently weighed in on the many varied diet plans available today, some heavily promoted by social media influencers and other celebrities and personalities. While the results of the studies and the AHA’s statement are not entirely surprising, it’s worth discussing the diets that are out there, how one should diet, if one should diet, and ultimately, what these findings mean for how you lose weight and change your lifestyle.
Diet or Lifestyle Change
First, it’s essential to distinguish diet from lifestyle change. Many patients believe that by dieting, they are embarking on a sustainable change; however, the word diet in and of itself suggests impermanence. Few ever go on a diet expecting it to last forever. The ultimate endpoint is often returning to our previous habits and regaining weight. Patients should instead look toward any modifications to their diet or exercise regimens as lifestyle changes. This means implementing often small, step-by-step changes to ensure that they lead to lasting results.
The Least Heart-Healthy Diet
According to this recent AHA statement¹, Keto, Atkins, and Paleo ranked the lowest of the diets evaluated based on their criteria. This is unsurprising as all three promote a drastic reduction in carbohydrate consumption. On the surface, carb reduction is a great idea – after all, sugar and refined grains are part of the obesity and consequent heart disease epidemic in the United States. However, the flip side is that we miss out on an essential part of the balanced diet – whole grains like whole wheat bread and brown rice – which does not affect blood sugar like refined carbs and can even help us lose weight. Ultimately, these overzealous diets have lumped good foods with bad.
These diets also often lack guidelines, and this also means two things. First, many patients may consume a significant amount of protein (usually red meat) containing saturated fat, which raises your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, and causes atherosclerosis and the narrowing of arteries, eventually leading to severe cardiovascular disease and even heart attack.
Second, most diets that eliminate carbs are unsustainable. Unfortunately, when we fail in our diet and exercise programs, our frustration often leads us to gain weight and sometimes put on even more.
The Best Diets for Heart Health
You may have guessed, and you would be right, that the best diets for heart health reduce saturated fat intake and offer a balanced nutritional profile. The DASH program, developed by the National Institutes of Health in the 1990s, specifically for hypertensive patients, came in as the top diet. The pescatarian or fish-centric diet came in second, while the Mediterranean diet came in third. The vegetarian diet rounds out the top four. These diets are well-rounded, giving patients options to enjoy what they eat and giving the body the nutrients it needs.
No Diet Is Foolproof
While top-tier diets have potentially excellent outcomes, we must remember that almost any diet is open to interpretation. For example, patients on heavily meat-based diets have much to choose from. They can (rightly) opt for lien cuts of beef, less fatty ground beef, or chicken alongside pork and turkey. The other option is to take their new diet in a different (and decidedly less healthy) direction and eat the fattest cuts of beef, including marbled steaks, higher fat content ground beef, and bacon, as just a few examples. In other words, understanding the principles of the diet and sticking to it is different from following what is printed on the page before you. The same can beside for the vegetarian diet. Intuitively, we all know we must still stick to basic dietary principles for the vegetarian diet to work. For example, is butter-drenched asparagus vegetarian? Yes! Ours to sodas vegetarian? Absolutely!
This reminds us that, no matter what we do and who guides us, we have ultimate control over what we eat and how we address our heart health.
If you have any questions about dieting and exercise related to your heart health, we encourage you to schedule a consultation with us to discuss your options. Every person has a different tolerance for foods they consume, including carbs, and as such, there is rarely a one size fits all option to rely on word for word.
We look forward to seeing you in the office and discussing your dietary needs and lifestyle change options, especially as they may relate to arrhythmia care.