The American Heart Association (AHA) on Tuesday outlined 10 key features of a heart-healthy eating pattern.
The organization’s new scientific statement, titled “2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health” and published in the journal Circulation, emphasizes the importance of overall dietary pattern, rather than individual foods or nutrients, as well as underscores the critical role of nutrition.
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The features listed, the AHA said, can be adapted to accommodate certain factors including cultural traditions, food likes and dislikes and whether most meals are consumed at home or “on-the-go.”
According to the group, the statement reflects that a poor diet is strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
The importance of a total dietary pattern – rather than “good” or “bad” foods or nutrients – is emphasized, as well as the role of nutrition education.
Eating healthy early in life and maintaining healthy habits are also underscored.
“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,” Alice Lichtenstein, chair of the scientific statement writing group, said in a statement. “It does not need to be complicated, time-consuming, expensive or unappealing.”
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The 10 features that can help reduce the risk of heart disease:
- Balancing food and calorie intake with physical activity
- Choosing a wide variety to eat with fruits and vegetables
- Choosing whole grains
- Including healthy sources of lean and/or high-fiber protein
- Using liquid non-tropical plant oils
- Choosing minimally-processed foods and avoiding ultra-processed foods
- Minimizing intake of added sugars
- Choosing or preparing foods with little or no salt
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Applying the guidance no matter where food is prepared or consumed
In addition, for the first time, the AHA summarizes evidence that addresses sustainability and enumerates several challenges that make it more difficult to adopt and maintain a heart-healthy eating pattern.
Commonly consumed animal products, like red meat, contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions that warm the Earth’s atmosphere and have the largest environmental impact in terms of water and land usage. However, the AHA highlights that not all sustainable diets are heart-healthy.
The association said that public health actions and policy changes are required to address societal challenges and barriers to adopting or maintaining a heart-healthy diet.
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Some of those challenges include widespread dietary misinformation, a lack of nutrition education in schools, food and nutrition insecurity, structural racism and neighborhood segregation and targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“Creating an environment that promotes and supports adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns among all individuals is a public health imperative,” the statement said.