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AHA Reverses Course in New Dietary Guidelines

AHA Reverses Course in New Dietary Guidelines

Breaking news: The American Heart Association updated its dietary guidelines … after 15 YEARS.

Yes, that’s about 14 years too late, but it’s still good news!  The organization now recommends that Americans assess their diets with an eye toward overall healthy eating patterns. In other words, they’re finally saying what we’ve been saying for years:  Making small, sustainable, healthy choices has become the official guidance of the country’s biggest heart health organization.

Back in 2006, the organization’s advice was much more specific, including a recommendation to eat oily fish twice a week, another to minimize partially hydrogenated fats, and this gem that requires a degree in nutrition to comprehend:

• Limit your intake of saturated fat to <7% of energy, trans fat to <1% of energy, and cholesterol to <300 mg per day

Those types of details -- that led to a good food vs. bad food mentality -- are now gone. The new buzzword appears to be “balance.”

"What's really important is the balance of everything together that has the biggest impact on cardiovascular health,"  Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston and chair of the AHA's scientific statement writing group, told USA Today.

Sound familiar? It's almost as if they’ve been reading my blogs!

Here is what the AHA now says to look for in a heart-healthy diet, all of which I fully endorse, along with links to what I’ve written about each: 

  1. Balance food and calorie intake with physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. (Here’s what I wrote about the importance of exercise.)
  2. Choose a wide variety of foods and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to get a full range of nutrients from food rather than supplements. (Read my take on supplements here.)
  3. Choose whole grains and other foods made up mostly of whole grains. (Check out my blog on whole grains.)
  4. Include healthy sources of lean and/or high-fiber protein such as plant proteins (nuts and legumes), fish or seafood, low fat or non-fat dairy, lean cuts of meat and limit red and processed meats. (Here’s one of my posts on the Mediterranean diet.)
  5. Use liquid non-tropical plant oils such as olive or sunflower oils. (I wrote a primer on fats here.)
  6. Choose minimally processed foods rather than ultra-processed foods as much as possible. (Read my take-down of ultra-processed foods.)
  7. Minimize intake of beverages and foods with added sugars. (Here’s how sugar-sweetened soda affects your body.)
  8. Choose or prepare foods with little or no salt. (Here’s my advice on how to do that.)
  9. Limit alcohol consumption; if you don’t drink, do not start. (This is what I wrote  about the USDA recommendations on sugar and alcohol.)
  10. Apply this guidance no matter where food is prepared or consumed. (Here are my tips on how to accomplish that.)

Thanks for listening AHA! 

In all seriousness, I do applaud the American Heart Association for publishing these overdue updates. I just hope food manufacturers make it easier for us to adhere to them.  As for Step One, we will continue to lead the charge as an agent of change.  Because whether it's 2006 or 2021, your health is our mission -- and what we eat MATTERS. 

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