Diets with healthy portions of meat are better for a person’s heart than going vegan, says a leading panel of cardiologists.
The American Heart Association (AHA) ranked 10 popular diets for their possible benefits in preventing heart disease.
They were judged on whether the diet promoted the consumption of healthy foods; cutting out added sugars, unhealthy salt and processed foods; and getting daily nutrients.
Researchers found the DASH diet, tailored for people with high blood pressure, and the famous Mediterranean diet best. Going vegan, a favorite for some health-conscious people, came in fifth – an average score.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans, accounting for about 700,000 a year. In the UK, circulation problems kill around 168,000 people each year.
Scroll down to see how each diet scored
The AHA ranked ten popular diets by how healthy they are for the heart. They found that pescatarians and Mediterranean diet eaters were among the best. The DASH diet — developed by cardiologists themselves — scored the best
While many factors play a role in heart health, diet is one of the most important and easiest to control.
Doctors warn that foods high in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fats can put more stress on the arteries and cause circulatory problems.
On the other hand, nutrient-rich foods like vitamin K — which helps stop blood clotting — and whole grains and more may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers at the AHA, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Circulation, rated ten popular “healthy” diets on a nine-point scale.
Each of the diets are among those that someone who is concerned about their overall health can follow.
Some — like going keto, paleo, and going vegan — have gained notoriety on social media.
In contrast, the DASH diet — called the Nutritional Approaches to Stop Hypertension — was created specifically by cardiologists to improve heart health.
The oft-lauded Mediterranean diet was simply the natural diet of people living in the southern European region, but mountains of scientific evidence later emerged to praise heart and brain health.
The ranked diets also included a pescatarian diet, the lacto-ovo diet — a vegetarian who eats eggs — low-fat and low-card diets.
They were scored on whether they encouraged eating fruits and vegetables; whole grain; protein from healthy sources; avoiding unhealthy oils; controlling sugar and salt intake; avoiding ultra-processed foods; limiting alcohol and how strict the diet is.
The DASH diet scored perfectly on every measure, receiving a score of 100. This diet cuts out fatty meats such as pork, beef, and chicken thighs.
Instead, it recommends fish or chicken breast as a protein source. Skimmed milk is also preferable to full-fat dairy milk.
It ranked alongside the Mediterranean, Pescatarian, and Lacto-Ovo diets in “Tier 1” — voted the best diets for heart health.
The Mediterranean diet was devised to promote the consumption of red wine while also including foods such as olives and salmon that can be prepared with a lot of salt.
The diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and fish received an 89, the third best diet.
Pescatarians received a small discount for the same reason, as many fish are prepared with high-salt seasonings. It got a 92, good for second place.
While often considered the healthiest diet one can choose, veganism actually ranks fifth. It fell into Level 2, with a score of 78.
Researchers explained how difficult it is to stick to the plant-based lifestyle.
Many vegan diets can end up costing more than typical meat diets, and require eating at home or in vegan restaurants to avoid animal products.
Researchers also note that many vegans are vitamin B12 deficient. This can lead to hair loss, vision problems and damage to the nervous system.
However, this nutrient deficiency was not taken into account in the AHA’s assessment.
At the bottom of the list were the keto and paleo diets.
The keto diet involves cutting out almost all carbs and replacing them instead with foods rich in fat and protein.
The goal is to get into ketosis, a theory that states that a person begins to use fat as a primary energy source instead of carbohydrates.
This means that a person will avoid many starchy vegetables, breads and whole grains in order to eat a diet consisting mainly of meat and dairy.
It received a negative score on almost every metric. Overall, the highly controversial diet scored a 31 out of 100.
With it in the lower bands was the paleo diet.
The paleo diet is a way of eating that discards foods that were unavailable to our earliest ancestors. This mainly includes meat, fruits and vegetables.
The idea is that the body didn’t evolve to eat modern foods — and instead eat better in the same way our distant ancestors did.
Foods that originated from human ingenuity, such as milk and dairy products, grains, beans, gluten and refined sugar, are pushed aside.
Highly processed foods that are all too common in the modern diet are also ditched.
However, it was points for not including whole grains, too much salt, and not being easy to keep up. It scored a 53 out of 100.
How the American Heart Association ranked 10 diets
- DASH – 100 (out of 100)
- Pescatarian – 92
- Mediterranean – 89
- Lacto Ovo – 86
- Very meager -72
- Low carb 64