We’ve written before on heart-healthy practices for children; included in that blog post: rest, appropriate levels of physical activity, and, of course, a heart-healthy diet.

It’s vital that everybody develop a regimen of exercise, rest, and a healthy and nutritious diet. But it’s especially important for children with congenital heart disease. Helping your child develop heart-healthy eating habits will pay dividends in the long run.

As we wrote in our “Kids’ Guide To Heart Healthy Eating,” parents should encourage a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. Parents should discourage or prohibit too much caffeine, unhealthy fats, sodium, or sugar.

But even knowing these basics of a good diet as many parents do, there may still be some questions regarding the best diet for heart health.picture of a table stocked with healthy vegetables

Best Diet For Heart Health

Popular research suggests that there are three diets that consistently rank high for heart health compatibility:

  1. The Human (Paleo) Diet
  2. The Whole Foods Diet
  3. The Mediterranean Diet

Are these the best diets for heart health? That depends on a number of individual factors, which you should discuss with your doctor. However, there is little doubt among the medical and scientific communities that each of these three diets can offer at least some heart-healthy benefits when combined with exercise and other healthy activities.

Let’s take a moment to examine each of them.

THE HUMAN (PALEO) DIET

The thinking behind this diet is that humans evolved to eat a certain diet and that we’re most likely to achieve optimal health by eating the way our ancient ancestors did.

The argument has a certain comfortable logic to it. After all, if our bodies (and thus we ourselves) evolved to eat a certain diet, then doesn’t that necessarily mean that we’ll be eating optimally for heart health by eating a similar diet now?

Well, no. Not really. Thing is, there doesn’t appear to be one “true human diet,” whether we choose to call this particular one the paleo diet, the stone-age diet, or the caveman diet.

Besides, even if we could pinpoint precisely what our ancient ancestors consumed (which we can’t with any certainty), it remains true that our guts are not the same as our ancestors’ guts.

Consider what Peter S. Ungar, a professor at the University of Arkansas and the author of “Evolution's Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins,” has to say on the subject.

“What was the ancestral human diet?” Ungar asks in Scientific American. “The question itself makes no sense. … Traditional human foragers managed to earn a living from the larger community of life that surrounded them in a remarkable variety of habitats, from near-polar latitudes to the tropics. Few other mammalian species can make that claim, and there is little doubt that dietary versatility has been key to the success we've had.”

Limiting processed food, alcohol, dairy, sugar, and salt is a good habit to get into for heart health. A paleo diet of nothing but fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and lean meats can also help lead to heart health for you and your child.

As always, consult your doctor for advice.

THE WHOLE FOODS DIET

Although this diet sounds like it’s sponsored by a grocery store chain, a “whole foods diet” really is as simple as it sounds.

Author and nutritionist Elaine Magee argues that “research appears to be pointing us in the direction of eating mostly ‘whole foods’ — that is, foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.”

Some examples of food consumed as part of a “whole foods” diet:

  1. Whole grains
  2. Fruit
  3. Vegetables
  4. Beans
  5. Tubers (e.g., potatoes and yams)
  6. Lean proteins

It’s worth noting that some nutritionists insist that a whole foods diet is also plant-based. In any case, this diet will presumably be low in fat and high in fiber and essential nutrients (vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium) — all of which can certainly be a part of an improved and heart-healthy diet.

Furthermore, studies have shown that diets “rich in whole and unrefined foods, like whole grains, dark green and yellow/orange-fleshed vegetables, and fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds … may be protective against chronic diseases.”

THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET

As reported in U.S. News & World Report, “It's generally accepted that the folks in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less than most Americans from cancer and cardiovascular ailments.”

Why? This diet excludes or limits red meat, sugar, and saturated fats, focusing instead on “fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices; fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week; and poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation.”

Add in some exercise and proper rest, and the Mediterranean Diet seems to hit all the right checkmarks for a heart-healthy diet, including a reduction in cholesterol levels.

“Clearly, the Mediterranean diet is heart-healthy,” concludes U.S. News & World Report. “The diet has been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, and it's also been shown to reduce blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol.”

Pediatric Cardiology Center of Oregon (PCCO)

No matter which diet plan and heart-healthy foods you choose for yourself or your children, it’s important to always speak to your primary care physician to determine what’s best for you and the child. 

At the Pediatric Cardiology Center of Oregon (PCCO), we’ve established a world-class facility for pediatric cardiology care. We’ve built a team made up of the top practitioners in the country, and benefit from our partnership with Legacy Emanuel Hospital and the Randall Children’s Hospital.

Contact PCCO today with any questions about the best diet for heart health benefits.