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Low Fat vs. Mediterranean - Which Diet is Healthier for Your Heart?


There have been discussions for decades about the best diet plans for reducing the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, the focus for many years was on low-fat diets that ignored the risks of diets centered around high carbohydrate and high sugar foods. Our medical societies even promoted high sugar cereals because they contained less saturated fat and cholesterol than other breakfast alternatives. Sandeep Singh, MD FACC, Co-Director of the Division of Cardiology at Crystal Run Healthcare, explained how the focus on low-fat and low-carb diets needs to shift towards healthier alternatives for people at risk of heart disease.

“Only following a low-fat diet is not the best plan for reducing the risk of heart disease,” said Dr. Singh,  “Our adherence to low-fat diets (with a complete disregard for carbohydrates) over the past 50-plus years has resulted in increasing rates of obesity and heart disease. Thankfully, death from heart disease has gone down due to medical advances despite heart disease becoming more prevalent in our society.”

In the last few decades, the healthcare community realized the correlation between consuming processed foods and carbohydrates with weight gain and poor overall state of health. The popularity of quick, microwaveable, instant, and drive-thru foods has caused an increase in unhealthy food habits and consumption. Most physicians and nutritionists believe that instead of processed and fast foods, the best dietary paths to follow for reducing the risk of heart disease are those that include a plant-based or a Mediterranean-style approach.

“A plant-based diet is as simple as it sounds, with no dairy or animal fats. A Mediterranean diet is generally high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods,” explained Dr. Singh.

More recent studies are confirming the connection between plant-based diets and a reduction in heart disease risk. Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health performed a study with about 5,000 adults and followed their cardiovascular risk over 30 years. Those that followed a plant-centered diet or Mediterranean-style diet appeared to be 52% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease. No low-fat diet has been shown to reduce risk to a similar extent.

Living a more plant-centered lifestyle can most certainly be difficult, requiring serious discipline and commitment. The benefits of doing so have been shown to extend lives while incurring fewer cardiac events. A good way to transition to a plant-forward diet is to make small dietary changes over time by replacing one processed food or carbohydrate with a Mediterannian style-approved alternative. It is also important to talk to your primary care provider or a nutritionist before making drastic dietary changes to ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs in addition to focusing on heart disease prevention. Cardiologists at Crystal Run can also work with you to create the best diet plan for your heart health.  

“As long as we don’t fall into the trap of eating plant substitutes and focus on eating mostly plants,” cautioned Dr. Singh, “then we may have found the potion for living longer and healthier.” 


Sandeep Singh MD, FACC, is a Cardiologist Board Certified in Cardiovascular Disease and Nuclear Cardiology. Dr. Singh earned his BA from the University of Connecticut in Mansfield, CT, and earned his Medical Degree from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Mansfield, CT. He completed his Residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worchester, MA, and completed his Fellowship in Cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. His clinical interests include Inflammation and Coronary Artery Disease, Congestive Heart Failure, High Blood Pressure, and High Cholesterol. Dr. Singh is currently seeing patients in Middletown and Monroe.