Do you want a healthier heart? A healthy diet can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Here are 2021's three best diets for heart health.
A group of 25 nutritionists, cardiologists and researchers have crowned the Mediterranean diet their overall best diet for the fourth year running1. This should come as no surprise – the Mediterranean diet is loved by millions of people worldwide as a nutritious, heart-healthy and enjoyable way to eat. We're also taking a closer look at this year's runners up, the flexitarian and DASH diets, which may be even better at supporting heart health and lowering blood pressure. Here's a look at 2021's top three diets and how they could shape your health for the better.
The Mediterranean Diet
Italy, France, Greece and Spain are all famous for their long, Mediterranean coastlines. The people who live here each have unique cuisines and regional variations in the food they eat, but their portion sizes and diet all follow the same basic principles - the Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional, healthy and fresh diets of these countries.
The Mediterranean diet isn't a set meal plan and there aren't any specific dishes involved. You can be flexible when choosing what you eat and when. An authentic Mediterranean diet means eating lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding saturated fats, including nuts and cereals in your diet, consuming oily seafood and fish and choosing lean meats over red meat. Sugars, highly processed meats and dairy should only be consumed in moderation while butter and sunflower oil should be cut out in favour of more heart-healthy oils2.
Olive oil is a crucial part of the Mediterranean diet – it can be used liberally; in cooking, drizzled over salads or if you're a traditionalist, drank straight from a glass. Virgin and extra virgin olive oils are best, they contain more phenols and polyphenols which, according to research, can significantly decrease hypertension and heart disease risk3. Phenols are also found in black garlic, which has been linked with decreasing blood pressure and supporting heart health4.
These food groups and portion sizes are almost identical to the Eatwell Guide, the NHS and government's recommended diet for adults in the UK. The Mediterranean diet is endorsed by health professionals around the world as an easy-to-follow diet plan that's fun to cook and enjoyable to eat. People who eat a Mediterranean diet typically have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and many more conditions5. Read more about the Mediterranean diet and how it could help your heart by clicking here
The DASH Diet
The DASH diet and flexitarian diets were tied for second place for 2021's best diet1. Both of these diets are highly nutritious and share many of the characteristics of the Mediterranean diet, with some key differences. DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a healthy eating plan specifically formulated to help reverse high blood pressure. Unlike the Mediterranean diet, DASH was developed by leading US nutritionists from the National Institutes of Health – it isn't a traditional diet6. It's widely-promoted in the United States but is beginning to gain popularity in Europe and the UK as well.
The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean proteins like fish and chicken. Red and processed meats and refined sugars are eliminated from the diet wherever possible while whole-grain intake is pushed up. This means that bread, rice, cereal and pasta are all allowed and they can be eaten throughout the day; choose high-fibre options wherever possible. Surprisingly, sweets and other sugary treats can still be eaten while following the DASH diet, up to 5 small servings each week.
A main focus of the DASH diet is lowering salt and sodium intake6. To help reverse hypertension, the DASH diet cuts sodium intake down to 1,500mg per day. The NHS recommends that adults keep their daily sodium intake below 2,400mg, which is the same as 6g of table salt7. Regularly consuming more than this amount can raise a person's blood pressure to unhealthy levels, which over time increases their risk of developing serious heart and circulatory problems. By lowering salt and sodium intake from the diet, blood pressure can often reduce to a healthier level.
Despite placing second in this year's diet leader boards, the DASH diet was voted 2021's best heart-healthy diet by the same panel of experts8.
The term flexitarian was coined in 2008 by registered dietician and TV personality Dawn Jackson Blatner. The flexitarian approach to eating isn't a fad diet or a celebrity-endorsed gimmick to sell recipe books; it is an evidence-based eating plan that has been thoroughly researched and adhering to it can improve heart health9.
In simple terms, the flexitarian diet is a semi-vegetarian version of the Mediterranean diet. If you've tried cutting meat from your diet in the past, but struggled to stick with it, then perhaps the flexitarian diet is for you. It's a casual approach to the vegetarian diet and as the name suggests, there's flexibility in what you eat as it allows you to eat meat from time to time. For meat-lovers who want to cut down, this may be an ideal diet to follow10.
Around 1 in 3 of people in the UK is flexitarian, even if they don't use the term themselves11. Going meat-free has been linked with a 22% decrease in heart disease risk. That being said, following a strictly vegetarian diet does seem to increase a person's risk of developing osteoarthritis and it is thought to increase stroke risk by a whopping 20% as well12. The flexitarian diet appears to be the ideal compromise between total vegetarianism and eating meat.
The Final Verdict
Switching to any of these diets could help to improve your heart health in the long run, especially when combined with an active lifestyle. Over 12 million people in the UK have high blood pressure with a further 5.5 million people currently undiagnosed and unaware of this serious problem13. Following any rich and varied diet, that's full of healthy foods and low in salt and sugar, can help you to take care of your heart.
We've created a range of garlic-based nutritional supplements to help you achieve and maintain a healthy heart. Kwai Heartcare+ with Japanese Black Garlic is available in packs of 30 and 100 tablets and is formulated to supplement and support a healthy diet and lifestyle. Each easy-to-swallow, daily tablet provides you with 450mg of Japanese black garlic, 2,700μg of Allicin and Vitamin B1, an essential vitamin for heart and brain health. Find out how black garlic can affect blood pressure and cholesterol levels here.
The Kwai Heartcare blog is not a source of medical information or advice. Always check with your doctor before making changes to your diet and lifestyle, especially if you have an underlying health condition.