The American Heart Association has taken a new, personalized approach to its heart-healthy 2021 dietary guidelines — the first update in 15 years.
The new report “refocuses the guidelines from narrow, specific and scientific, to broader, personalized and more balanced to meet people where they’re at and allow for smoother lifestyle changes,” the organization said in a statement.
“The emphasis is on dietary patterns, not specific foods or nutrients,” said lead author Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., of Tufts University. “And it’s not just about what people shouldn’t be eating. The focus is really on what people should be eating, so they can customize it to their personal preferences and style.”
Five of the seven major health modifiers that support heart health are related to diet, so changing personal nutrition can have a huge impact on one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, cardiologist Elizabeth Klodas, M.D., added.
Personal heart-health dietary goals highlighted in the new guidance include the following:
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. BMI is a reference point, but not the most important factor, AHA experts contend. Those who are overweight or obese can make a major impact by working toward weight loss with small everyday dietary changes, they say.
Eat plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The AHA guidelines mirror those of the Mediterranean diet approach.
Choose whole-grain foods and products. In general, it’s important to choose foods that are as close as possible to the original form for maximum health benefits.
Choose healthy sources of protein. The guidelines suggest using plant protein sources (like beans, nuts, and seeds) over processed meats. The AHA also recommends adding fish and seafood into your diet regularly, with low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean cuts of meat and poultry occasionally.
Use liquid plant oils. The guidelines suggest opting for plant oils, like olive oil, rather than tropical oils (like coconut oil, hydrogenated coconut oil, and palm kernel oil) and partially hydrogenated fats. Plant oil is typically liquid at room temperature and animal fat is solid at room temperature.
Choose minimally processed foods. Instead of reaching for ultra-processed foods, the AHA suggests opting for something a bit more fresh. Foods like low-fat cookies and rice cakes are processed carbohydrates, which can increase cholesterol.
Minimize beverages and foods with added sugars. A can of soda a day translates to 30 cases a year. “Changing one can of soda to a bottle of water is a health transformation,” one expert said.
Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Keep salt intake to under 2,300mg per day or under 1,500mg per day if you have high blood pressure. To do this, focus on foods that are naturally low-sodium or sodium-free, like fruits and vegetables.
Limit alcohol intake. The latest research suggests that alcohol has a negative impact on cardiovascular health. Alcohol is a simple carbohydrate, empty calories, and a stimulant that can affect weight, insulin, and blood pressure control.
The new detailed guidelines were published in the journal Circulation.