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10 Principles for Heart Health Nutrition

Wisdom from the American Heart Association.

Heart health nutrition

Intending to improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association—in collaboration with a panel of dietitians, nutrition researchers and physicians—has released tips for heart health nutrition in its new Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health.

Included are these 10 guiding principles:

  1. Adjust energy intake and expenditure to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  2. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetable; choose a wide variety.
  3. Choose foods made mostly with whole grains rather than refined grains.
  4. Choose healthy sources of protein, such as
    •  mostly plant protein (legumes and nuts);
    •  fish and seafood;
    •  low-fat or fat-free dairy products (instead of full-fat versions); and
    •  lean cuts of meat or poultry (avoid processed forms).
  1. Use liquid plant oils rather than tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel), animal fats (e.g., butter and lard), and partially hydrogenated fats.
  2. Choose minimally processed foods instead of ultraprocessed foods.
  3. Minimize intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
  4. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
  5. If you do not drink alcohol, do not start; if you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake.
  6. Adhere to this guidance regardless of where food is prepared or consumed. Whether dining out, ordering in or cooking from scratch, these same tips still apply.

Importantly, the guidance moves away from recommending specific foods and focuses more on dietary patterns.

The AHA paper also highlights structural challenges that impede adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns and that are often overlooked in nutrition recommendations. These include the abundance of marketing for unhealthy foods, dietary misinformation from the internet, nutrition insecurity and structural racism. Lists like these mean little for those who don’t have access to or the finances to consistently purchase and prepare minimally processed food.

The guidelines also advise providing incentives for healthier purchases in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program and allowing people in areas with few grocery stores to order SNAP groceries online.

See also: Red Meat and Heart Health

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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