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The best (and worst) diets for heart health, according to the American Heart Association

From paleo to pescatarian, there’s a seemingly endless list of diets to choose from. But which are the most heart-healthy?

In a statement released Thursday, the American Heart Association rated 10 popular diets based on their standards for heart health.

The diets that rated the best for improving cardiometabolic health included the DASH-style eating plan, the Mediterranean diet, pescatarian and vegetarian. Meanwhile, paleo and ketogenic diets were found to contradict the association’s guidance and did not rank as heart-healthy eating patterns.

“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,” Christopher D. Gardner, chair of the writing committee for the statement and the Rehnborg Farquhar professor of medicine at Stanford University, said in a press release

“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.” he said. “We hope this statement serves as a tool for clinicians and the public to understand which diets support good cardiometabolic health.”

The DASH-style eating plan, which stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” received a perfect score from the analysis thanks to its emphasis on being low in salt, added sugar, alcohol, tropical oils and processed foods as well as being rich in non-starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. Protien also tends to be mostly from plant sources along with fish, lean meats and low- or fat-free dairy products.

The Mediterranean diet, patterned on the traditional cuisines of the region, emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, nuts and whole grains. It ranked below DASH since it doesn’t “explicitly address added salt and includes moderate alcohol consumption (rather than avoiding or limiting alcohol),” the statement explained.

And while short-term improvements in body weight and blood sugar have been shown with paleolithic and low-carb ketogenic-type diets in the short term, these ranked as the worst options for heart health due to high fat levels as well as restrictions on fruits, whole grains and legumes, which can result in reduced fiber intake.

“These diets are high in fat without limiting saturated fat. Consuming high levels of saturated fat and low levels of fiber are both linked to the development of cardiovascular disease,” the statement added. 

They also heavily restrict carbohydrates, the body’s main fuel source.

“When you restrict total carbohydrate intake to less than 10% of calories, you miss opportunities to consume some of the micronutrients like potassium and calcium that are associated with reduced blood pressure, you reduce total fiber intake, which is also associated with better cholesterol management and you miss out on opportunities to consume a lot of plant based foods that are rich in these phytochemicals that have heart protective benefits,” Maya Vadiveloo, assistant professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Rhode Island and co-author of the statement, told CBS News Friday.

Plus, from a behavioral standpoint, these patterns tend to be very restrictive, making them difficult to maintain.

“A really big piece of this statement was to encourage people to adopt a dietary pattern that’s heart healthy that they can maintain for the rest of their lives,” she explained.

Nikki Battiste contributed to this report.

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