Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide .
In addition to lifestyle factors like engaging in regular exercise and not smoking, diet is one of the best ways to protect your heart. That’s because inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other heart disease risk factors are affected by what you eat .
In particular, diets high in fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants have been shown to help support heart health — whereas high intakes of added sugar and processed meats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease .
While many diets claim to support heart health, it’s important to choose one that’s backed by scientific evidence and easy to maintain long term.
Here are the 6 best diets for heart health.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional eating patterns of people living in Greece and Southern Italy during the 1960s .
In general, the diet emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods, including whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and extra virgin olive oil. It also includes moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, low fat dairy, and red wine .
Additionally, it limits or eliminates added sugars, refined carbs, highly processed snacks, and red and processed meats.
Numerous studies associate the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of heart disease, as well as heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure .
One review of 11 studies found that following a Mediterranean eating plan reduced overall risk of heart disease incidence and mortality by 40% .
The heart benefits of this diet are thought to be largely due to its emphasis on whole, minimally processed plant foods and healthy fats .
For example, extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and compounds with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties .
A review of 32 studies tied a higher intake of this oil — but not other monounsaturated fats — to a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality, heart disease, and stroke .
Other factors like engaging in exercise and consuming fewer added sugars may also contribute to the diet’s beneficial effects.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was designed to help prevent and treat hypertension, or high blood pressure. In turn, it reduces your risk of heart disease .
Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet doesn’t mandate a strict food list.
Instead, it recommends specific amounts of food groups based on your calorie needs, focusing on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, and lean meats while limiting red meat, refined grains, and added sugars .
Moreover, it recommends that you limit your sodium intake to 1 teaspoon (2,300 mg) per day — and a lower salt version encourages no more than 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) per day.
For individuals with high blood pressure, reducing sodium intake has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure, especially when combined with the DASH diet .
However, research suggests that this effect is less significant among people with normal blood pressure levels .
The diet’s emphasis on high fiber foods, such as whole grains and vegetables, and elimination of added sugars and saturated fats may also contribute to its heart-health effects .
Indeed, research shows that the DASH diet reduces heart disease risk factors like blood pressure, obesity, waist circumference, cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance .
An umbrella review of 7 reviews linked the DASH diet to a 20% reduced risk of heart disease, 19% reduced risk of stroke, and 18% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes .