Skip to content

Four Diets That Make Your Heart Healthy

When it comes to the best diet for heart health, one plan doesn't fit all.

So says Gina Lundberg, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and medical director of the Heart Center for Women at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta. She suggests different diets to her patients based on their heart-disease risk factors. Heart-healthy eating plans are rich in fruits and vegetables and dramaticallyslash junk food, desserts, sugary beverages, fast food and fatty meats, she says.

Lundberg gives her diet recommendations for heart health:

The South Beach Diet, a best-selling diet book by cardiologist Arthur Agatston.

Lundberg says she suggests this to her patients with diabetes or pre-diabetes. They tend to be overweight, particularly around the middle, she says. "The South Beach Diet is good for improving cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood glucose."

This diet restricts many less healthful carbohydrates, including cakes, cookies, candies, breads, white pasta, especially during the initial two-week weight-loss phase, then it turns into a moderate-carb diet. It steers people away from saturated fat found in butter and fatty meats such as hamburger and bacon and encourages the consumption of olive oil — rich in monounsaturated fat — and fish.

A Mediterranean-style diet

"This is great for a person who is at a normal weight and trying to improve their cholesterol," Lundberg says. "It's not a calorie restricted diet. It's more about reducing unhealthy fats and increasing healthy fats."

The foundation of the diet is fruits and vegetables (7 to 10 servings a day), small amounts of lean protein, fish that's high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, trout, sardines), beans, peas, legumes, nuts, small amounts of whole-grain bread and whole-wheat pasta, avocadoes, olives and olive oil, which is a healthy monounsaturated fat, she says.

She warns patients that this diet doesn't mean they can eat meals loaded with white bread and pasta. "The pastas should be a side dish and not the entire meal and small portions of whole-grain, multi-fiber bread. This is not an Italian-restaurant diet, but a more of Greek island plan."

And it's wine in moderation. "Patients, particularly women, think they are supposed to drink red wine with abandon. It's one 6-ounce glass a day for women and two glasses a day for men."

For more information, check out The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mediterranean Diet by Kimberly Tessmer and Stephanie Green, or go to

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet

Research shows that people can lower their blood pressure by following this low-sodium, high-fiber eating plan, Lundberg says.

It emphasizes fruits, vegetables and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products and includes whole-grain products, fish, poultry and nuts. It is very low in sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages.

The menus for the diet limit daily sodium consumption — is limited to about 2,300 milligrams or 1,500 milligrams, which is far lower than the 3,400 milligrams consumed by the average adult in the USA. The plan is low in saturated fat and total fat and rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which are important for good blood pressure, good kidney health and good cardiovascular health, she says.

Menus and eating plans are outlined on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website.

A very low-fat vegetarian diet

"This is an extreme dietary approach for someone who is making an all-out effort to avoid heart surgery and medical intervention," she says.

These types of programs, including ones developed by Dean Ornish and Robert Pritikin, dramatically cut sweets and refined carbohydrates in favor of a plant-based diet and trim fat to 10% or less of total calories. The plans incorporate exercise, meditation and other healthy lifestyle choices.

She says many patients have trouble adhering to this kind of strict regimen. "I have some very motivated people, and it's the rare exception that they can stick with it. But even if they are trying to follow Pritikin and Ornish and are cheating a little, they're still probably eating much better than they used to."