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Are Any Fad Diets Good for Heart Health?


It may be tempting to latch on to the latest diet fad like juicing or going gluten-free to lose weight or achieve other health goals. But when it comes to heart health, doctors say sticking with old standbys like fruits, veggies and olive oil is still the best approach.

To see what kind of diet patterns might be the most heart healthy, a team of doctors and researchers examined results from more than a dozen previously published nutrition studies. Taken together, all of this evidence shows the best regimen for heart health includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, the study concludes.

“There is a great amount of misinformation about nutrition fads, including antioxidant pills, juicing and gluten-free diets,” said lead study author Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness in the division of cardiology at National Jewish Health in Denver.

“However, there are number of dietary patterns that have clearly been demonstrated to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease,” Freeman said in a statement. “There is growing consensus that a predominantly plant-based diet that emphasizes green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit is where the best improvements are seen in heart health.”

Based on the scientific data available, nuts in moderation, extra-virgin olive oil and lean meats can also be part of a heart healthy diet, Freeman and colleagues report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

To help avoid high cholesterol, one risk factor for heart disease, the study authors also recommend skipping or limiting eggs and other oils like coconut and palm oil.

Even though U.S. dietary guidelines released last year removed previous recommendations to limit cholesterol, the current research review still advises against eating too many eggs because they are associated with higher cholesterol levels in the blood.

Coconut oil and palm oil may be trendy, but there isn’t much data to show they’re healthy for routine use, the study also concludes. Olive oil does have proven benefits, but should be consumed in moderation because it’s high in calories.

When it comes to antioxidants, another diet fad, there’s no evidence that supplements can help the heart and some evidence that they may have harmful health effects. But the science does support eating whole fruits and vegetables to get these nutrients.

Juicing, too, may not be as good for the heart as whole fruits and vegetables if people end up drinking too many calories, the researchers note. Juices without added sugar may, however, make sense for people who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

“The problem with juicing is that many individuals who drink these tend to consume more calories from added sugars (fruit, yogurt, milk) than they realize,” Dr. Daniel Rader of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia said by email. He wasn’t involved in the study.

Gluten-free diets that avoid ingredients like wheat, barley and rye are necessary for people with celiac disease or gluten allergies, but don’t have proven benefits for anyone else, the study concludes.

It’s possible that fad diets avoiding gluten without a medical reason to do this might appear to be successful because people who try eating this way to improve their health also do other things that are healthy like getting plenty of exercise and sleep and avoiding smoking and junk food, said Alvaro Hernaez, a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona.

“They feel better because of the general improvement in their lifestyle habits,” Hernaez, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Fads diets, especially those that load up on meat or restrict too much food, should be avoided, said Samantha Heller, a nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center who wasn’t involved in the study.

“We would all benefit from eating fewer foods that come from animals such as ham, beef, cheese, butter and pork, and eating a lot more plant foods,” Heller said by email.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

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