Here's What You Need to Know About the American Heart Association's Latest Dietary Guidance for Cardiac Health
There are several ways to keep your heart healthy, and, according to Haylie Pomroy. a Hollywood nutritionist and The New York Times-best-selling author of Cooking for a Fast Metabolism, this includes frequent exercise. "We often forget the heart is made of the same tissue as the biceps and triceps," she says. Nutrition is another key part of the equation, particularly when it comes to cardiac health. If you're hoping to tailor your diet to boost your ticker, turn to the The American Heart Association (AHA), which just updated its dietary guidance for heart health—for the first time in 15 years—at the end of 2021. Ahead, we break down these updates and share how to incorporate them into your routine.
The New Dietary Guidance
The new AHA dietary guidance is as follows: Adjust your energy intake and expenditure to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight; eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (and enjoy a wide variety!); choose foods made mostly with whole grains rather than refined grains; select healthy sources of protein; use liquid plant oils (olive, canola, sunflower, and corn) rather than tropical oils (coconut, palm, and palm), animal fats (butter and lard), and partially hydrogenated fats; choose minimally processed foods over ultra-processed foods; minimize your intake of beverages and foods with added sugars; prepare foods with little or no salt; and minimize alcohol intake.
According to Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., FAHA, the chair of the scientific statement writing group for the recent AHA dietary statement and the senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at Tufts University in Boston, the new dietary guidance emphasizes dietary patterns rather than individual foods or nutrients. Plus, it summarizes the importance of adopting heart-healthy habits early in life and maintaining them over the years; choosing minimally processed foods and striving to consumer more plant-based protein (as opposed to red or processed meats) are key, she says. This guidance also affirms the need for public health policy that addresses "critical barriers to adopting a heart health dietary pattern, including structural racism, neighborhood segregation, and targeted food marketing practices," she adds.
In the office release, the AHA, Lichtenstein affirms, also linked heart-healthy dietary patterns to a reduced risk of other chronic conditions—and noted that eating with the guidance in mind supports broader sustainability and environmental efforts. Lichtenstein also called out the importance of sticking to this method, wherever you eat and "regardless of where food is prepared—at home or outside the home."
Balance and Variety
As for how to work these dietary changes in your life? Pomroy, who is a fan of the guidance, says it's all about balance, variety, and creating diverse micro-nutrient meals with good-for-you protein, carbohydrate, and fat sources. "I don't believe in abstaining from a food group, even complex carbs," she says. "So many diets right now have you avoiding fruit, which breaks my heart (no pun intended!). I liked that the AHA incorporated fruits into their guidelines." Plus, she believes that reducing alcohol consumption, as the AHA suggests, is helpful "to heal and optimize our health" in the long run. "Lastly, the introduction of lots of processed foods at a young age can have a poor impact on our health—[these are] filled with salt, sugar, and processed meats," she adds. "When you give kids [processed foods and sugar] and hope they won't become a cardiovascular risk, it's not very sound science—so, I'm very glad they addressed this."