Are Fad Diets Bad For Your Heart?

photograph of diet foods, exercise equipment and a notebook.
Along with routine exercise and not smoking, a good diet is one of the most effective ways to improve heart health. Diets that include significant amounts of added sugar or processed meat can increase the risk for heart disease, while diets rich in fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats have been shown to support heart health.

“What you put in your body basically becomes who you are, and there are a number of foods that can do anything from increasing your risk for diabetes to raising blood pressure,” said Dr. David Griffin, a cardiologist with the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute. “A healthy diet starts with more vegetables, fruits and lean meats, and limiting trans fats and saturated fats.”

With vegan, ketogenic, paleo, intermittent fasting and countless other fad diets out there, it can become difficult to distinguish between legitimate solutions and empty promises of a quick fix. Regardless of the headlines associated with those diets, caloric intake is one of the key factors to consider before committing to any diet.

“Any diet that’s less than 800 calories per day can be a potentially harmful diet and I would not recommend it,” Dr. Griffin said. “Ultimately, it comes down to finding a diet that you can stick with and that fits your lifestyle.”

Whenever considering and ultimately implementing a heart healthy diet, it’s important to maintain an ongoing relationship with your cardiologist or primary care physician. Always consult with a doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.

“That conversation should be had essentially every time you see your primary care doctor or your cardiologist,” said Dr. Griffin. “Maintaining a healthy weight is critical for preventing long-term risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and sleep apnea, which can lead to arrhythmias.”

The ketogenic diet is one that has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many restaurants even offering keto-friendly options on their menus. Similar to Atkins and other low carb diets, the ketogenic diet involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. It forces the body to burn fats rather than carbs.

“Individuals that go onto a very low carbohydrate diet tend to lose weight faster,” said Dr. Griffin. “Some of the long-term studies past a year or so haven’t shown a whole lot of difference between the diets, so at the end of the day, it really comes down to what you can stick with and what works best for you.”

For those seeking a quicker solution than implementing a fad diet, stimulants and other medications can be tempting. However, it’s important to resist the urge and focus on healthy diet options unless suggested otherwise by a cardiologist.

“I’m not a big fan of medications that are stimulants in your diet,” Dr. Griffin said. “Some of those can be dangerous and have even been taken off the market for that reason.”

The basics of good health begin in the kitchen and CHI St. Vincent is here to help because we know that together we’re healthier. For more healthy lifestyle tips and great recipes, sign up for the Better You and Healthy Foodie newsletter at: