The American Heart Association has updated its recommendations for heart-healthy eating

heart-healthy dietary
The American Heart Association has modified its heart-healthy dietary guidelines.
  • The American Heart Association (AHA) has modified its dietary guidelines for 2021, after a scientific statement issued in 2006.
  • The broad guidelines are intended to give direction regardless of what we consume or who we are.
  • The necessity of eating well throughout one’s life is emphasized in the article.

The American Heart Association’s “2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health” includes new recommendations based on the most recent research and tailored to today’s different preferences and eating patterns.

Rather of thinking in terms of “good” or “bad” foods, the new scientific statement emphasizes the need of an overall heart-healthy diet throughout one’s life.

“If someone hyper-focuses on everything they need to avoid, they might become nutrient-deficient, which negatively effects heart health,” Michelle Routhenstein, a cardiology dietitian and owner of entirelynourished.com, told Medical News Today.

In an email to MNT, Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein, chair of the group responsible for writing the document, explained the goals:

“The purpose of the statement 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.
  • Present common features of dietary patterns that promote cardiometabolic health.
  • Discuss additional benefits of heart-healthy dietary patterns beyond cardiovascular health.
  • Highlight structural challenges that impede the adoption of heart-healthy dietary patterns.”

The AHA’s new scientific statement is published in the journal CirculationTrusted Source.

Adapting a heart-healthy diet

Dr. Lichtenstein explains:

“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. It does not need to be complicated, time-consuming, expensive, or unappealing.”

She adds, “You can absolutely adapt a heart-healthy diet to different lifestyles, including one that incorporates eating out at restaurants.”

The statement’s guidelines are intended to assist people in developing healthy eating habits:

“Food-based dietary pattern counseling encompasses personal preferences, ethnic and religious customs, and life phases to attain nutritional sufficiency, promote heart health, and overall well-being.”

Routhenstein, who was not engaged in the AHA statement’s development, noted:

“These are broad principles that can be used as a starting point for leading [people] toward heart health.” However, they don’t always address the underlying problems and primary causes that are crucial to reducing heart disease risk. Someone with insulin resistance, excessive inflammation, and/or oxidative stress, for example, needs to address these issues for optimal risk reduction and will likely benefit from a more tailored strategy to achieve outcomes.”

10 requirements for hearth health

These requirements for a heart-healthy food pattern are at the heart of the AHA’s recommendations:

  1. Adjust energy intake and expenditure to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  2. Eat plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  3. Choose whole grain foods and products.
  4. Choose healthy sources of protein: mostly plants, a regular intake of fish and seafood, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. If meat or poultry is desired, choose lean cuts and unprocessed forms.
  5. Use liquid plant oils rather than tropical oils, such as coconut and palm, and partially hydrogenated fats.
  6. Choose minimally processed foods instead of ultra-processed foods.
  7. Minimize the intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
  8. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
  9. If you do not drink alcohol, do not start; if you choose to drink alcohol, limit the intake.
  10. Adhere to this guidance regardless of where food is prepared or consumed.

Getting a head start on heart health

The AHA statement underlines the need of maintaining a balanced diet throughout one’s life to prevent potentially fatal cardiac disorders such as high LDL cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

According to the authors, “well-documented evidence showing the prevention of pediatric obesity is crucial to protecting and prolonging optimum cardiovascular health” begins in early life.

Childhood obesity afflicted 14.4 million children and adolescents in the United States in 2017–2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition, says Dr. Lichtenstein, “It is important to educate children at all ages so as they transition into adulthood, they will be able to make informed decisions about what they eat and serve as positive role models for generations to come.”

Taking down the barricades

The AHA also acknowledges that maintaining a healthy diet might be especially difficult for minoritized populations that are impacted by institutional racism.

Many communities of underrepresented ethnicities and races, according to the statement, lack access to healthful goods at local supermarkets. Fast-food restaurants and dollar store marketplaces mostly service these areas.

According to the authors:

“Reaching population-level dietary goals will not occur without addressing structural factors responsible for neighborhood segregation, low educational attainment, and low income.”

The AHA talks sustainability

The AHA addresses food-related sustainability and environmental challenges for the first time:

“There are growing worries about the environmental effect of present eating patterns and food systems that promote animal-based food production and consumption, which contribute significantly to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, as well as water and land use.”

The AHA claims that “commonly consumed animal products, particularly red meat, have the greatest environmental impact.”

In its final scientific statement, the organization looks forward to the rapidly developing area of precision nutrition, but cautions that it is still in its early stages.

“Creating an environment that supports, rather than impedes, adherence to heart-healthy food patterns among all persons is a public health imperative,” the authors write for the time being.