Best Diets for Heart Health

A heart-healthy diet has many benefits.

While being overweight puts people at risk for heart disease and stroke, a heart-healthy diet can help you lose weight or lower cholesterol, blood pressure or triglycerides, a type of fat in blood.

According to the health experts who rated diets for U.S. News, these are the 15 best diets for your heart. The following eating plans emphasize foods that promote heart health, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean poultry and fish — like salmon and tuna — that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. The diets also limit processed foods that are high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats because these increase the risk of heart disease.

No. 15 Zone diet

The Zone diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that promotes eating food in specific proportions and requires five meals per day. The aim of the Zone diet is to make sure your insulin and other inflammation-promoting hormones stay “in the zone.” It might also help improve your heart health by bringing down cholesterol levels.

While no foods are technically off-limits for those on the Zone diet, certain foods including those high in saturated fats are discouraged. Meal timing is particularly important on the Zone diet. The tedious structure for every meal around specific macronutrient thresholds may make this diet difficult to stick to long term.

No. 13 (tie) Jenny Craig diet

The Jenny Craig diet involves prepackaged meal kits with a variety of options for different meal plans. This diet tied for No. 13 in heart-healthy diets.

Although many prepackaged foods are high in sodium, the Jenny Craig meal plan is designed to provide no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily. Additionally, the five servings of fruit and vegetables each day will add the fiber and minerals essential for heart health, including potassium and magnesium.

No. 13 (tie) Noom

The Noom diet tied for No. 13 in heart-healthy diets. This diet program involves tracking meals in the Noom Healthy Weight app and offers personal coaching from Noom certified coaches.

The diet encourages eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and focuses on reducing consumption of saturated fats.

No. 12 Nutritarian

The Nutritarian diet emphasizes plant-based foods that are rich in nutrients, high in satiation and low in calories. So it makes sense the plan, developed by Nutritional Research Foundation president Dr. Joel Fuhrman, also ranks high in heart health among experts.

Another heart-healthy feature of the diet is its opposition to animal proteins, which robust research has linked to an increased risk of heart disease-related deaths when it constitutes a relatively large portion of the diet. While some experts caution that the plan may be too restrictive to keep up long term, another says, “It’s really just trying to pack in as many of the healthiest foods as possible and minimize those that have been associated with disease.”

No. 11 Pritikin

The Pritikin diet was specifically designed to promote heart health by focusing on low-fat, high fiber foods. This diet was created in the 1970s by Nathan Pritikin. It emphasizes avoiding processed foods and added sugars.

The wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains and nonfat dairy has proven to prevent cardiovascular disease in dozens of research studies. The Pritikin diet is in line with the American Heart Association’s recommendation to eat two servings of fish each week.

The Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation program is one of three intensive cardiac rehab programs approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. These programs require a physician’s prescription and are carried out in the hospital setting.

No. 9 (tie) Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet

The anti-inflammatory diet, which is based on the heart-healthy principles of the Mediterranean diet, reflects creator Andrew Weil’s belief that certain foods cause or combat systemic inflammation. According to the American Heart Association, inflammation is not a proven cause of cardiovascular disease, but it is common among heart disease patients.

Plus, the program emphasizes a steady supply of omega-3 fatty acids, which research suggests protect against heart disease. Keep in mind, though, that you “can easily obtain a healthy ‘anti-inflammatory diet’ without all these rules by eating fruits, vegetables and healthy fats,” one expert points out.

No. 9 (tie) WW / WeightWatchers

WW includes custom plans and focuses on overall wellness in addition to weight loss.

WW appears to promote heart health. In a randomized trial, researchers compared several diets including WW for heart disease reduction. After one year, WW participants reduced their ratio of “bad” LDL cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol by about 10%. That’s important, since a high ratio of those two forms of cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, according to the JAMA study.

Additional research supports WW’s cholesterol-lowering effect, including a drop in both LDL cholesterol and harmful high triglycerides, according to a Public Health Nutrition study.

No. 7 (tie) Volumetrics

With its focus on foods with low-calorie density and high water content — like non-starchy fruits and veggies and broth-based soup — volumetrics can be good for your heart. A study of participants following a low-density diet found that all had significant drops in their blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease.

Volumetrics “helps people identify more-filling food,” a U.S. News reviewer says. “The emphasis on salads, soups and vegetables is excellent for weight control, diabetes control and prevention and heart disease prevention.”

“This is one of the few diets that has significant support in the form of clinical research trials,” another expert praises. “Given the scientific basis and the research support, it is a diet that truly deserves more recognition.”

No. 7 (tie) Mayo Clinic diet

Experts agree the Mayo Clinic diet is a sound option for preventing or controlling heart problems. It focuses on coaching dieters to develop healthy, lasting habits around which foods they choose to eat and which to avoid.

Mayo Clinic’s approach reflects the medical community’s widely accepted definition of a heart-healthy diet: heavy on fruit, veggies and whole grains, but light on saturated fat and salt, which is considered the best way to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay. “The flexibility makes long-term adherence realistic,” one expert adds.

No. 5 (tie) TLC diet

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program, claims to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by 8% to 10% in six weeks. Overly high LDL cholesterol is a major cardiovascular risk. It can form deposits within the walls of coronary arteries, bulging the artery and interfering with blood flow.

Since the early 2000s, a body of evidence has established the TLC program’s effectiveness in reducing high cholesterol levels — a significant heart disease risk factor. In a Journal of Lipid Research study, for example, participants who shifted from a typical American diet to the TLC diet reduced their LDL cholesterol by 11% after 32 days. The TLC diet is nutritionally sound and proven by extensive research. “It is aimed at reducing cholesterol, but would be a great diet for any average American,” says one expert panelist.

No. 5 (tie) MIND diet

This plan is a mashup of two other expert-endorsed diets — DASH and Mediterranean — and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health (think green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine). Turns out, the heart likes the same foods, studies show.

A downfall of the MIND diet: Physical activity, proven important for heart health, is not addressed in the plan, some experts point out.

No. 3 (tie) Ornish diet

This rules-heavy plan is ranked highly for heart health again this year due to its holistic and evidence-based approach shown to help prevent and even reverse heart disease. One expert asks: “Shouldn’t this be the default diet recommended by the American Heart Association” and other medical organizations? “

The downside of the Ornish diet, which includes prescriptions for stress-management techniques, exercise, social support and smoking cessation, is its restrictiveness: Only 10% of calories can come from fat, very little of it saturated and most foods with any cholesterol or refined carbohydrates, oils, excessive caffeine and nearly all animal products are banned.

No. 3 (tie) Flexitarian diet

Flexitarian is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian. The plan revolves around the idea that you don’t have to eliminate meat completely to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism; an occasional burger is OK.

Many studies have found heart health benefits of plant-based eating. For example, a large Swiss study including nearly 11,000 people found that lower-meat diets, including vegetarian, pescatarian and flexitarian, reduced cholesterol levels and blood pressure, as well as BMI. Earlier research suggests a semi-vegetarian diet also helps promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

No. 2 Mediterranean diet

What can’t this eating style do? The Mediterranean diet, which is ranked No. 1 in U.S. News’ Best Overall Diets, “is one of the best-studied diets for the prevention of heart disease, and the results show that it works,” one U.S. News expert says.

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight, as well as better cardiovascular health outcomes and lower rates of heart disease and stroke.

Not only is this eating pattern low in added sugar, saturated fat and sodium which have been repeatedly implicated in the development of heart disease, but it is also rich in potassium, magnesium and fiber, which have proven to fend off heart disease. You’ll do your heart a favor by following it.

No. 1 DASH diet

The dietary approaches to stop hypertension program, or DASH, was created to help control high blood pressure — and it works. One expert calls it “by far the best with data to back up lowering hypertension.” Indeed, extensive research suggests it’s an optimal choice if you want to lower your blood pressure, as well as improve other markers of cardiovascular health.

If you adopt the diet, you’ll emphasize the foods you’ve always been told to eat — fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. The DASH diet is balanced and can be followed long term. DASH also discourages foods high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy foods, tropical oils and sugar-sweetened beverages. Following DASH also means capping sodium at 2,300 milligrams daily, which followers will often lower to about 1,500 milligrams.

15 Best Diets for Your Health

No. 1 DASH diet.

No. 2 Mediterranean diet.

No. 3 (tie) Flexitarian diet.

No. 3 (tie) Ornish diet.

No. 5 (tie) MIND diet.

No. 5 (tie) TLC diet.

No. 7 (tie) Mayo Clinic diet.

No. 7 (tie) Volumetrics diet.

No. 9 (tie) WW / WeightWatchers.

No. 9 (tie) Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet.

No. 11 Pritikin diet.

No. 12 Nutritarian diet.

No. 13 (tie) Noom diet.

No. 13 (tie) Jenny Craig diet.

No. 15 Zone diet.

More from U.S. News

Heart-Healthy Soups

The Best Heart-Healthy Snacks

Heart-Healthy Breakfast Ideas for a Busy Morning

Best Diets for Heart Health originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 01/03/23: This story was previously published and has been updated with the new rankings.

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