It appears that no matter which risk factor we look at in terms of developing heart disease, they all have a common thread – our weight. Let’s face it. After a certain age, most of us simply don’t maintain the same “girlish” figure that we had in our 20s.
Despite good intentions, most of us don’t maintain the same activity level as we age, either. Worse still, many of us are trapped in jobs where we have “working” lunches that consist of sitting at our desk while tied to a conference call or frantically typing on the keyboard in order to resolve a problem or meet a deadline created by someone else’s failure-to-plan. No matter your individual circumstance, the end result is the same – more food – less activity resulting in more weight on our bodies than is conducive to a healthy heart.
Since I fall into this category, I went on a search to determine what diet is “best” if I want to have a healthy heart. Please don’t get me wrong. If dieting were an Olympic sport, I’d definitely be a contender for the gold medal! I’ve tried my fair share of diets, doing my part to contribute to the economy and keep the diet gurus in business! However, this is different. If I want a healthy heart, then weight and diet are only one of the risk factors to be addressed. I need a diet that will not only enable me to lose weight and maintain that weight loss, but that will fit into my lifestyle as well so that I can eliminate one set of risk factors permanently.
I found an excellent article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association about a study that specifically compared the various popular diets from the viewpoint of heart health. The study was conducted by researches at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The diets evaluated were as follows: the Ornish Plan, the Zone Diet, Atkins, two different Weight Watchers plans, the South Beach Diet, the New Glucose Revolution, and the 2005 MyPyramid Plan. Since this was a study focused on popular diet plans, the American Heart Association diet plan recommendations were not included in this study.
The researchers ranked the various diet plans based on the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI). AHEI is an index that is specifically designed to measure how what we eat correspondences to the risk of developing heart disease and how much the diet benefits our heart health. Under the AHEI guidelines, a diet consisting of such things as fruits, vegetables, nuts, soy, and white meats are deemed to be more beneficial to heart health than a diet focused on red meat. The highest AHEI score which a diet may receive is a 70. A score below 30 would be considered an unhealthy heart diet. According to the AHEI metric, the various popular diets ranked as follows:
• Ornish, 64.6.
• Weight Watchers high-carbohydrate, 57.4.
• New Glucose Revolution, 57.2.
• South Beach Phase 2, 50.7.
• Zone, 49.8.
• MyPyramid, 48.7.
• Weight Watchers high protein, 47.3.
• Atkins 100-g carbohydrate, 46.
• South Beach Phase 3, 45.6.
• Atkins 45-g carbohydrate, 42.3.
The good news is that none of the popular diets scored below 30. There was however, quite a bit of difference in the rankings received. Just what does it all mean? Does it mean that the Ornish diet is the best and we should all rush out and start it tomorrow? No! Absolutely not! Remember, I said that I was looking for a diet plan that I could live with and incorporate as a part of a permanent lifestyle change. The Ornish diet is very restrictive and you don’t eat meat. I love meat and while I might be able to eliminate it temporarily, I couldn’t do so permanently. I did try the Atkins diet once and lost a lot of weight, had the lowest cholesterol of my life and maintained the weight loss for years. Unfortunately, it turned out that that high protein diet may be bad for persons with MS, so I won’t do it again. I liked the South Beach Diet and lost weight, but it had some food that you had to eat regularly which were not to my taste. So, what’s a girl to do?
Each of us must be proactive in this area and decide what is going to work for you. Remember, we are not talking about just going on a diet. We aren’t just talking about losing a few pounds. We are talking about making a conscious, educated decision regarding a dietary lifestyle change that is going to result not only in permanent weight loss, but in helping to reduce our risk for heart disease. What is right for me may not be the right lifestyle diet for you. You need to look at your food preferences, lifestyle, what’s important to you and evaluate your personal preferences and needs against the diet protocols available, and then make and educated decision and follow your plan.
I’ve made my evaluations. I’ve put together and implemented a plan of action for my dietary lifestyle change. I challenge each of you to do the same. We can beat heart disease, one woman’s heart at a time.
Until next time, here’s wishing you a healthy heart…
(Disclaimer: I am not a physician and nothing in this article should be construed as giving medical advice. As with any medical decision, please consult your physician.)
Study Rates Heart Health of Popular Diet Plans, 05 Oct 2007, EveryDay Health, http://www.everydayhealth.com/publicsite/news/view.aspx?id=608869
A Dietary Comparison of Popular Weight Loss Plans, Volume 107, Issue 10, Pages 1786-1791 (October 2007), Journal of the American Dietetic Association, http://www.adajournal.org/article/PIIS0002822307014794/abstract
John Casey, Reshaping the Food Pyramid, MedicineNet.com, 02 Jan 2003, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52019