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The DASH Diet Is The Most Heart-Healthy Diet You've Never Heard Of

The Mediterranean diet gets all the fanfare. Meanwhile, this underrated, heart-healthy diet might be the healthiest there is.

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Looking for the perfect diet for heart health? You’ve probably tried the Mediterranean diet or maybe tried to go vegetarian, considered Paleo or Keto, or just decreased your salt intake and added more veggies to your meal plan. Although all of these are great options for a healthier lifestyle, one diet tops them all — and chances are you have never heard of it.

According to a new American Heart Association (AHA) statement, the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, leaves all the other lifestyle diets in the dust when it comes to improving heart health.

The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, whole grains, and small amounts of fish and chicken, along with some low- or nonfat dairy.

The American Heart Association tested a number of popular diets and ranked them according to how well they adhered to AHA dietary guidelines: lots of non-starchy veggies, legumes, fruits, and whole grains, and low in sodium, added sugar, certain oils, alcohol, and processed foods. The DASH diet was the only diet that scored a 100.

“The DASH Diet is a great choice because it is proven to help those with a history of heart disease or people with diabetes, but it is really a diet plan for everyone because it is easy to follow, and it can work for anyone in the family,” said Dr. Catherine Champagne, a professor and registered dietitian nutritionist at Pennington Biomedical, the organization that developed the DASH diet in the 1990s.

The purpose of the AHA statement was to help inform consumers about the glut of dietary misinformation available online and help them make more heart-healthy diet decisions. They found that some of the most popular diet trends are among the most heart unhealthy.

“The number of different, popular dietary patterns has proliferated in recent years, and the amount of misinformation about them on social media has reached critical levels,” said Christopher D. Gardner, the lead statement author and a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

“The public — and even many health care professionals — may rightfully be confused about heart-healthy eating, and they may feel that they don’t have the time or the training to evaluate the different diets. We hope this statement serves as a tool for clinicians and the public to understand which diets promote good cardiometabolic health.”

Here is the list of popular diets and their scores on the AHA screening.

  • DASH: 100
  • Pescatarian: 92
  • Mediterranean: 89
  • Vegetarian: 86
  • Vegan: 78
  • Low-fat: 78
  • Very low fat: 72
  • Low-carb: 64
  • Paleo: 53
  • Very low-carb/keto: 31

The study did not include commercial programs like Weight Watchers and Noom.

“If implemented as intended, the top-tier dietary patterns [DASH, pescatarian, Mediterranean, and vegetarian] align best with the American Heart Association’s guidance and may be adapted to respect cultural practices, food preferences, and budgets to enable people to always eat this way, for the long term,” the statement said.

Paleo and keto diets, often cited in certain communities as the gold standard for weight loss, veer widely from AHA dietary guidelines. These diets are high in fat and provide no restrictions for unhealthy saturated fats. They also eschew high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and legumes. All of these habits have been found to contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.

The statement goes on to explain that systemic racism has played an important role in the superfluity of chronic cardiovascular disease in marginalized communities and recommends that high-level solutions should include equity in education and promote healthier options for culturally diverse diets and eating patterns.