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7 heart-healthy diets to try in 2023

Looking for the best diet for your heart? Several heart-friendly diets can help support your heart and overall health in 2023.

December 14, 2022

If you’re thinking about adopting a new nutrition plan this year, consider following a heart-healthy diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death of American men and women. While you can’t change the heart disease risk factors you were born with, you can develop habits that will improve your overall cardiovascular health, such as avoiding tobacco, getting active and maintaining an optimal weight. 

Diet also plays a key role in your heart and vascular health. By eating healthy amounts of certain foods and limiting and/or avoiding others, you can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease and help maintain or manage your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Instead of hopping on the bandwagon of the latest diet fad trend, we recommend following the advice of medical experts to improve your overall health. Each year, the U.S. News & World Report comes out with a list of recommended diets, which are reviewed and rated by nationally recognized medical experts. It’s no surprise that their top pick for overall health in 2022, the Mediterranean diet, was also their top recommendation for heart health.

There are a number of diets, including DASH and MIND, that can also support a healthy heart. Many of these diets share the same key ingredients, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, but they're certainly not all the same. 

We’ve gathered information about seven diets that can help support your heart and overall health in 2023. Read on to learn more about them and find out which diet might right for you. 

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean-style diet has continued to receive high praise in recent years. This colorful and easy-to-follow eating style is built on the fundamentals of healthy eating — encouraging followers to fuel up on fruits, produce, lean meats, whole grains and olive oil. Nuts and legumes, like almonds, cashews, beans and lentils, are also encouraged on this plan. Food high in saturated fat — like red meat, butter and eggs — and sugar-sweetened treats should be consumed rarely, if at all.

The plan typically includes a moderate amount of red wine, about five ounces daily for women and 10 for men. There has been some controversy over the benefits — and potential dangers — of alcohol, but some research suggests, in moderation, it can help protect your heart.

Lauren Zimmerman, a registered dietician at one of HCA Healthcare’s South Carolina hospitals, weighed in on some of the pros and cons of the Mediterranean diet. "When compared to a low-fat diet, it has a moderate impact on weight loss,” Lauren said. “But I think there are more health benefits people can reap, like lower blood pressure and reduced risk for heart disease and diabetes.”

Findings published in 2019 in Circulation Research, an American Heart Association journal, also support the Mediterranean diet’s potential health benefits, stating: There is a large, strong, plausible, and consistent body of available prospective evidence to support the benefits of the (Mediterranean diet) on cardiovascular health

In addition to preventing heart disease, this diet might also help control diabetes, reduce your risk of cancer, benefit the brain, aid in weight loss and boost your immunity. HCA Florida Poinciana Hospital’s Emergency Room Site Medical Director, Dr. Daniel G. Snediker, recommends many foods on this diet to improve your immune system. “Citrus fruits, kiwi, red peppers, broccoli and spinach (…) are some foods that pack a punch when it comes to immunity,” Dr. Snediker said.

It’s no wonder the Mediterranean diet tops the U.S. News & World Report's list, year after year! There are lots of factors that earn this eating pattern its strong ranking, including simplicity and heart-health benefits.

Thinking about dining Mediterranean-style? Try sautéing a serving of mackerel in olive oil and plate with a helping of green beans and wild rice.

DASH diet

Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is an eating plan that encourages the consumption of produce, whole grains, fish, poultry, healthy fats, as well as foods high in potassium, like Brussels sprouts and bananas and calcium-rich eats, like kale and nonfat yogurt. The diet also recommends limiting foods that contain saturated fats, added sugars and too much sodium.

This plan was designed to help lower blood pressure and prevent hypertension, and research suggests the DASH diet is effective in doing both. When you load your plate with blood pressure-reducing foods like fiber and potassium, you leave little room for processed junk that might up your risk for heart conditions.

A cardiologist at one of HCA Healthcare’s Colorado hospitals, Dr. Sam Aznaurov, spoke positively about this simple and healthful diet. “It's a multifaceted approach to a healthy eating pattern as opposed to either glorifying or vilifying a specific food group and a relatively easy thing to follow," said Dr. Aznaurov.

Looking to build a DASH-friendly meal? Top a bed of spinach with your favorite vegetables, a serving of quinoa, three ounces of grilled salmon and a drizzle of olive oil.

Ornish diet

The goal of the Ornish diet is to eliminate the fats, unhealthy carbohydrates and animal proteins your body doesn't need, and some say it can prevent or even reverse diabetes, heart disease and hypertension… if you can follow it.

The Ornish diet is rather restrictive, limiting food groups to whole grains, fruits and vegetables — the more fiber, the better. Healthy fats, from nuts, seeds and oils, can be consumed in moderation, but should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories. The eating plan entirely eliminates animal proteins, including red meat, poultry and even fish, so reach for plant proteins — like beans, peas and lentils — to get your fix.

Like many other heart-friendly diets, its main purpose isn't weight loss. For this reason, the diet does not restrict calories. Just remember that obesity can increase the risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which are risk factors for heart disease, so it’s important to be mindful of portions, even when eating healthy foods. 

Still, there are many aspects of the Ornish lifestyle that make it good for your heart. The plan encourages regular exercise and stress management, both of which help protect your heart from damage.

Tip for keeping energy levels up and staving off hunger on the Ornish diet: Eat small frequent meals to help prevent overeating. Note: The size and frequency of meals are far less important than what you put in — or leave out of — your body.

TLC diet

The TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diet was created by the National Institute of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program with the goal of lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels, which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

This diet encourages followers to limit foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, like butter, red meat and full-fat dairy products. Limiting unhealthy fats not only benefits your cardiovascular health but can also lead to weight loss. "Fats are a dense source of calories, so dramatically reducing fat intake tends to lead to total caloric reduction and weight loss," said HCA Healthcare cardiologist Dr. Aznaurov. 

The TLC diet urges followers to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and moderate amounts of healthy fats, found in nuts, fish and olive oil. Although you may be reluctant to consume any fat on a diet, Dr. Frank Chae, bariatric surgeon at one of HCA Healthcare’s Colorado hospitals, explained how the moderate consumption of healthy fats can be beneficial. “Unsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol levels,” Chae said. “This helps lower the overall risk of heart disease and stroke.” Other TLC-approved foods that can help lower bad cholesterol include those high in soluble fiber, such as broccoli, beans and apples.

Interested in the TLC diet? Try swapping out red meat for skinless chicken, turkey or fish.

Flexitarian diet

There are some benefits to a plant-based diet, like lower rates of heart disease and diabetes and better digestion. But, if you're not willing to quit meat, cold turkey, this adaptable plan, known as the flexitarian diet, may be right for you.

Flexitarians typically stick to a plant-based or vegetarian diet, but consume meat and fish on occasion. Their meals largely consist of fresh produce, whole grains and plant proteins, like eggs, beans, lentils and other legumes, nuts and nut butters.

These diets are typically lower in total fat, saturated fats and dietary cholesterol than those that include more animal proteins, which may be the reason plant-based eaters tend to have lower rates of high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.

Evidence also links a vegetarian-style diet to lower rates of diabetes, a condition that often accompanies heart disease. Results from a 2017 study suggest a primarily vegetarian and whole food diet can help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes.

Concerned about how to start a flexitarian/whole foods diet without breaking the bank? Clinical dietician at HCA Florida University Hospital, Johanna Rathbun, suggests shopping in the frozen food aisle. “Frozen fruits and veggies can have good nutritional value,” Johanna says. However, she cautions patients that not all products in the frozen food aisle are healthy choices. “With any packaged food, label reading is key,” she adds.

Vegan diet

Guidelines for a vegan diet are less lenient than those for the flexitarian diet, though some of the eating patterns are similar. Vegans eliminate all animal products and byproducts from their diets, including meat, dairy, eggs, honey and even gelatin. Instead, they fuel with plant products, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.

"In general, there is evidence that strict vegetarians do tend to be slimmer than carnivores,” HCA Healthcare cardiologist Dr. Aznaurov said. "These diets do tend to promote at least some weight loss, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular events."

Similar to the flexitarian diet, veganism slashes saturated fat from your diet. Beef, pork, cheese and cream are loaded with unhealthy fats, which have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, and should be eliminated from a vegan diet. Evidence suggests replacing saturated fats with the unsaturated kind can reduce this risk. Nuts, seeds, avocados and oils, like olive and canola, are considered good sources of healthy fat.

There are some drawbacks to veganism, like the potential for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If you're looking to make the jump from a meat eater to a full-blown vegan, it's important to speak with your doctor about getting the nutrients your body needs.

To reap the greatest benefits for your heart, enjoy whole foods. Sure, there are plenty of processed options with a vegan label, but that does not make them healthy. Some studies have even linked processed plant-based diets to higher rates of heart disease than those that include meat.

Curious about a vegan diet but unsure about how to get enough protein without meat? Amy Buchannan, a registered dietician at one of HCA Healthcare’s South Carolina hospitals, says, “As far as protein goes, grains like quinoa and amaranth are considered complete proteins. They have all the amino acids that we need.”

MIND diet

The MIND diet, designed to boost brain health, is an eating plan that combines elements of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. Studies have shown the diet's efficacy in preventing cognitive decline and have even linked it to a reduction in conditions like Alzheimer's disease. In addition to its potential brain-boosting benefits, the diet may also help protect your heart from disease.

There is no set eating pattern for the MIND diet, instead followers should select their food from 10 brain-healthy groups, which include:

  • Leaf greens
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Berries
  • Bean
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Olive oil
  • Wine

The diet is not without restrictions. For example, red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and fried foods, are not recommended. 

Interested in incorporating elements of the MIND diet into your lifestyle? Try swapping your typical protein for a serving of beans or lentils or reduce the amount of dairy, like butter and cheese, you use in your recipes.

Tips for trying to eat more heart-healthy foods

A healthy diet, regardless of its title or acclaim, can be good for your whole body, including your heart. Many heart-healthy eating plans share similar principles, like eating whole foods and steering clear of the processed junk. And you don't have to stick to a specific set of guidelines to help protect your heart from disease.

If you're looking to reduce your heart disease risk, make yourself a grocery list that includes:

  • Vegetables and leafy greens
  • Fruits
  • Lean protein, like skinless chicken breast, salmon or beans
  • Whole grains
  • Olive, canola and avocado oils
  • Nuts and seeds

Reducing your sodium intake and controlling portion sizes are two additional heart-healthy steps you can take. Unhealthy fats, saturated and trans fats found in products like butter, should be limited, as they raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. You needn't deprive yourself of the occasional treat, but it's usually best to reach for the least processed option.

Although these diet recommendations are geared towards supporting your overall health and heart health and aren’t specifically geared towards weight loss, these plans can also help you maintain a healthy weight. HCA Healthcare’s Colorado-based bariatric surgeon Dr. Thomas Brown urges patients to aim for long-term health instead of quick fixes that may be fleeting. “Remember: real, lasting weight loss isn’t about temporary diets and dropping pounds fast,” Dr. Brown advised. “It’s about investing in your health for the long haul, and being proud of the small changes you’re making to better yourself.”

If you are considering taking on a new, heart-healthy diet or making other nutritional changes, it’s best to make an appointment with your physician and discuss your plans with them first. Find a doctor near you. 

If you think you might be at risk of developing a heart condition, take a free heart health risk assessment today to better understand your heart disease risk and the best next steps you can take for your health.


Disclaimer: This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

December 14, 2022

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