You’ve just found out that you have heart disease, or heart disease risk factors, and you want to change the way you eat. Eating for better heart health does not involve just one type of diet – several different approaches can help reduce risk factors and lessen the likelihood of a heart attack or other cardiac event. Here are some of the best known:
Maimonides: Maimonides, who championed the “golden rule”, likely would extoll the Mediterranean diet, an approach scientifically proven to boost heart health. It involves eating moderate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, split peas, lentils, and others), fish, lean meats and poultry, lower fat dairy, and olive oil, and including red wine on occasion. This mainstream diet is best suited for patients who enjoy eating healthfully.
Michael Pollan: Michael Pollan, an author and journalist, summarizes dietary advice in three sentences: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What this means is that we should focus on natural rather than processed foods, control portion size, and eat primarily plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Animal proteins such as meat, chicken, and fish should be treated as side dishes rather than the main course. Processed foods, the real no-no, are an unfortunate staple of dietary culture in westernized countries and are often recognizable by their long list of ingredients. This diet is best for patients who want a general approach to eating rather than a strict food list “prescription.”
Dean Ornish: Dean Ornish, a physician in California, promotes a diet that is extremely low in fat and mostly plant-based. His eating plan is quite strict and is best followed by patients who are highly committed to dramatically changing the way they eat. The integrative Dr. Ornish approach, which also involves physical activity, meditation, and other lifestyle changes, has been shown to reduce heart disease in real patients, though relatively few have been formally studied.
Gary Taubes: Gary Taubes is a science writer who promotes a diet that is low in carbohydrates. Patients who have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, elevated triglycerides, and/or low HDL and also are overweight may benefit from a low carb diet as a way to jumpstart weight loss and improve their risk factors. This approach and its various permutations (Atkins, South Beach, Sugar Busters, etc.) often are successful at promoting weight loss when more moderate approaches have failed and can be transitioned into a more balanced way of eating once weight loss stabilizes.
Fred Flintstone: Fred Flintstone may have eaten the equivalent of today’s Paleo Diet, filling his plate with only what the hunter-gatherer of yesteryear could scrounge up — fish, meats, vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, roots, and nuts — while avoiding grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, sugar, and processed oils. This diet may help lower blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose short-term, but it is nutritionally unbalanced and is not scientifically proven to work.