For decades, the American Heart Association (AHA) has paved the way helping people manage their cardiovascular health, including offering recommendations for what to eat and how much exercise to get. Building on their previous work, however, the AHA recently released an updated series of dietary guidances for heart health — and they’re worth checking out!
The AHA unveiled its new guidelines in the November 2021 edition of Circulation in the hopes of providing more dietary clarity and flexibility on how everyday Americans should eat. But instead of highlighting hyper-specific foods needed in order to maintain a healthy heart, the document focuses more holistically on lifestyle choices.
The AHA’s 10 big recommendations are:
- Adjust energy intake and expenditure to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Eat plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Choose whole grain foods and products.
- Choose healthy sources of protein (mostly plants; regular intake of fish and seafood; low-fat or fat-free dairy products; and if meat or poultry is desired, choose lean cuts and unprocessed forms).
- Use liquid plant oils rather than tropical oils and partially hydrogenated fats.
- Choose minimally processed foods instead of ultra-processed foods.
- Minimize the intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
- If you do not drink alcohol, do not start; if you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake.
- Adhere to this guidance regardless of where food is prepared or consumed.
Why keep these guidances so broad? According to Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, the chair of the AHA’s expert working group, its goal is to “emphasize the importance of dietary patterns beyond individual foods or nutrients, underscore the critical role of initiating heart-healthy dietary habits early in life, [and] present common features of dietary patterns that promote cardiometabolic health.”
But more than that, Dr. Lichtenstein hopes that by not being so rigid with diet choices, people can figure out what works best for them on an individual level. “We can all benefit from a heart-healthy dietary pattern, regardless of stage of life, and it is possible to design one that is consistent with personal preferences, lifestyles, and cultural customs,” she said in a press statement. “It does not need to be complicated, time-consuming, expensive, or unappealing.”
While there’s so much flexibility within these 10 American Heart Association recommendations, it’s always a great idea to talk to your doctor if you’re making any shifts in your diet, especially when they could affect your heart health. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and your doctor will have a clearer idea of what’ll work best for you!