The 5 Best Diets for Heart Health

best diets for heart health

In the quest for a healthier heart, the importance of our dietary choices can’t be overstated. There are myriad choices for the best diets for heart health. They all, however, share core principles to not only nourish the heart but also support overall physical and mental well-being.

One central theme of all the best diets for heart health is their emphasis on eating real, whole foods, especially vegetables, fruits, quality proteins, healthy fats, and fiber-rich whole grains. In addition, they recommend moderate dairy consumption, minimal sugars, and limited ultra-processed foods. Many allow moderate alcohol intake.

Together, these guidelines form the foundation for eating patterns that have been linked to reduced risks of chronic diseases. They also offer powerful evidence of how vital the diet is for promoting greater health and longevity.

What to Look for in a Healthy Heart Diet

We know from experience that not all diets are created equal, and different diets have different effects depending on the person. Still, there are some general recommendations when looking at the best diets for heart health, such as:

  • Prioritizing Whole Foods: The best diets for heart health all prioritize a wide range of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains that are high in fiber and rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients are vital for maintaining heart health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Honing in on Healthy Fats: Fats from sources like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, have been found to benefit both heart health and brain function. Many heart-healthy diets also limit fatty red meat consumption and instead recommend eating more fish, poultry, beans, and legumes to reduce the intake of saturated fats while still getting enough protein.
  • Limiting Ultra-Processed Foods: Sadly, an estimated 57% of the average American diet is made up of ultra-processed foods. These so-called foods can increase the risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other health issues as they’re high in calories and sugar but lack nutrients. Instead, these diets advocate for eating whole grains and other real foods that provide the fiber and nutrients our bodies and hearts need to stay healthy.
  • Drinking in Moderation: Many heart-healthy diets permit alcohol but only in moderation. Red wine, for example, is part of both the Mediterranean and MIND diets due to its potential (though debated) heart health benefits.

The common ground across the best diets for heart health suggests a comprehensive approach that can support the heart, the brain, and overall wellness. While each diet shares core principles, they also have their own unique emphasis.

The Best Diets for Heart Health

Yes, sticking to the suggestions above can help you create a heart-healthy diet. But if you prefer more specific guidelines, the best diets for heart health include:

  1. Mediterranean Diet: Perhaps the most popular healthy diet around is the Mediterranean Diet. This lifestyle approach focuses on mindful eating, sound nutrition (eating whole, natural foods), and daily activity. And it can be adapted and adjusted to fit into just about anyone’s lifestyle. This is why it ranks as one of the best diets year after year.
  2. DASH Diet stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” In other words, this diet specifically addresses blood pressure reduction as high blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, often silently.
  3. Mind Diet takes two well-proven, highly effective diets (i.e., Mediterranean and DASH) and smashes them together with a focus on brain health. This diet was designed to improve overall health markers and lower the risk of mental decline to boot.
  4. TLC Diet, aka “The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet,” was created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program. The goal is to help people lower cholesterol levels to support heart health.
  5. Plant-Based Diets: Eating more of a plant-based diet is one of the fastest-growing ways to eat (increasing over 250% in the last decade). Eating more plant-based foods has been shown to promote health benefits, including heart health, be more sustainable, address environmental concerns, and more. While there are seemingly endless variations of plant-based diets, some of the most popular include:
    • High-Protein, Plant-Based Diet: You don’t need to rely on animal products to get the protein you need, even when following a higher-protein diet. Plenty of high-protein plant-based foods support a healthy metabolism, stronger muscles, and appetite and weight management.
    • Pescatarian Diet: You don’t need to be 100% vegan to follow a plant-based diet either. The pescatarian diet, for example, advocates regular fish consumption, though it does skip red meat and poultry. However, seafood is typically only consumed a few times per week, with much of the diet being made up of plant foods.
    • Flexitarian Diet: Even if you’re not ready to give up meat altogether, you can still eat more of a plant-based diet. For instance, the Flexitarian Diet is mostly vegetarian yet includes occasional meat or fish. It’s perfect for people who want to cut back on animal products due to health concerns, reduce environmental impact, or cut back on the seemingly ever-increasing cost of groceries.

The best diets for heart health include The Mediterranean Diet for Beginners

The journey toward a healthier heart can be significantly impacted by the foods we eat. Whether you choose a Mediterranean, Dash, TLC, Mind, or plant-based diet or put together your own custom plan, the key is to consume a variety of nutrient-rich foods. When combined with a heart-healthy exercise plan and a heart-healthy lifestyle, any of these diets can support heart health and enhance your overall quality of life.

Taking proactive steps to nurture your body can help prevent chronic diseases to help you not only add years to your life but to add life to your years. Your heart-healthy diet can be a foundation for making it so.