New Dietary Guidelines from the American Heart Association to Promote Heart Health

September 4, 2022

In the journal Circulation, the American Heart Association (AHA) just published a brand-new scientific declaration. The 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health, which was created by a panel of dietitians, nutrition researchers, and doctors, presents evidence-based nutrition knowledge about heart health. It includes 10 key guiding principles to improve heart health and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is significant since it shifts the emphasis away from promoting particular items and toward complete dietary patterns.

Due to the fact that no two persons have the same nutritional needs, flexibility in eating is essential. The updated recommendations take into account the necessity for meal preparation to be based on the foods that individuals can obtain, afford, and enjoy depending on their medical requirements and preferences.

"Overall, I agree with the new guidelines for heart health," says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, an LA-based registered dietitian nutritionist. "The focus on dietary patterns rather than specific foods allows for greater flexibility."

Addressing Racism, Nutrition Insecurity, and More

The AHA article also identifies structural barriers to the adoption of heart-healthy eating habits, including the widespread promotion of unhealthy foods, inadequate access to nutrition, and structural racism. These principles are frequently disregarded in nutrition advice yet are indisputable and are receiving the attention they merit.

"I am pleased the paper highlighted the challenges that impede adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of and author of "The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook."

It might be challenging to prepare a heart-healthy diet in contexts where unhealthy meals are the default choice due to problems like racism and nutritional insecurity. The AHA paper states that "creating an environment that facilitates, rather than impedes, adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns among all individuals is a public health imperative" and offers a list of 10 tips for doing this. The AHA panel acknowledges that improving diet quality and heart health across the U.S. will require addressing these systemic issues.

The AHA panel also supports tackling structural racism, healthcare disparity, and nutrition misinformation while reintroducing food and nutrition instruction for all kids. The government-run Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program should offer incentives for healthier choices, and residents of areas with few grocery outlets should be able to acquire SNAP food online.

10 Tips For Heart Health

A heart-healthy eating plan is outlined in the diet guidelines document's 10 suggestions. These details pertain to each tip.

Adjust Energy Intake and Expenditure

Your energy intake and expenditure should be adjusted to reach and maintain a healthy body weight. Though not everyone agrees with this extremely simplistic piece of advice, the proverb "calories in, calories out" made the list.

"It's far too simplistic to suggest people 'eat less and move more,' which is generally suggested in the first guidance point," says Harris-Pincus. "While one facet of cardiovascular disease risk is excess body fat, simply decreasing calories without attention to diet quality and lifestyle changes should not be emphasized."

According to Harris-Pincus, the continued emphasis on total energy intake and body weight simply serves to increase bias and stigma surrounding weight among medical professionals and obstructs the provision of high-quality care for people who suffer with obesity.

Eat a Variety of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains

Years of clinical research have demonstrated the heart-healthy benefits of the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. In this situation, the AHA panel states that this carb-rich dietary pattern has more supported data for its effectiveness when compared to a low-carb or ketogenic dietary pattern for heart health. Of course, critics worry about the carbs in these same items, especially grains.

Choose Nutritious Sources of Protein

When choosing your protein sources, try to include as many plants as you can. The push for more plant-based protein is popular these days for the health benefits (more fiber and less saturated fat than meat) and the environmental benefits. When choosing plant protein, Sheth advises soy, beans, and lentils, as well as nuts and seeds that have the advantage of plant-based omega 3 fats. You should also regularly include fish and choose lean cuts and unprocessed meats. Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts are among examples.

Incorporate Liquid Plant Oils

The AHA advises using liquid plant oils instead of tropical oils, animal fats, and partially hydrogenated fats because strong scientific evidence shows that including unsaturated fats like polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, especially when they replace saturated and trans fats, has numerous cardiovascular benefits. Avoid using butter, lard, margarine, shortening, coconut oil, or palm oil in favor of olive, avocado, peanut, or another type of vegetable oil.

Choose Minimally-Processed Food When Possible

Opt for lightly processed foods rather than highly processed ones. These three recommendations can be combined because they all highlight the health harm of eating too much ultra-processed food, which is high in sugar and sodium (plus additives and preservatives). Studies show that about 60% of calories in the average American diet come from ultra-processed foods, which has been linked with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other diseases.

Limit Alcohol Intake

If you don't currently consume alcohol, don't start; if you do, moderate your use. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men who drink. The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that the relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular disease is complex and may be influenced by the amount of alcohol a person consumes. But for some unfavorable outcomes, there is a direct correlation between alcohol use and the risk for stroke and atrial fibrillation. Of course, other characteristics, such as a person's drinking habits, age, and sex, also have an impact. In other words, a person's risk increases along with their alcohol use.

Recognize Guidance Applies in all Scenarios

Regardless of where food is cooked or consumed, the AHA advises following these advice. The same advice is still applicable whether eating out, ordering in, or making food from scratch. No matter where you are or what you are doing, it is crucial to keep these tips in mind when choosing what to eat to safeguard your heart health.

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