The latest word on heart-healthy eating is “balance.” A new report encourages people to think of broad eating habits instead of narrowly focusing on single foods. Rather than one-size-fits-all rules, it leaves room for personal preferences. The statement also acknowledges misinformation and the systemic problems – such as racism, neighborhood segregation, food insecurity and targeted marketing – that targets many Blacks and can be barriers to adhering to heart-healthy eating patterns. The report called it a “public health imperative” to work on policies that remove these barriers.
“The emphasis is on dietary patterns, not specific foods or nutrients,” Alice H. Lichtenstein, who led the writing committee for the American Heart Association scientific statement says. “And it’s not just about what people shouldn’t be eating. The focus is really on what people should be eating, so they can customize it to their personal preferences and lifestyles.”
The guidance, last updated in 2006, was published Tuesday in the AHA journal Circulation. The advice is consistent with federal dietary guidelines but emphasizes the latest research on reducing the risk of heart disease.
The report seeks to dispel the idea that a heart-healthy diet is about adding one vegetable or vitamin, Lichtenstein says. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of “the whole package” of what someone eats over the course of a day or week.
How to find balance in your diet
“If we increase our intake of one thing in our diets, we tend to decrease our intake of something else,” she notes. “And both the increase in one dietary component and decrease in another dietary component can have independent effects. What’s really important is the balance of everything together that has the biggest impact on cardiovascular health.”
A heart-healthy dietary pattern, the report advises, includes:
- achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
- eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- choosing whole grains rather than refined grain products.
- choosing healthy sources of proteins, mostly from plant sources (legumes and nuts); regularly eating fish and seafood; substituting nonfat and low-fat dairy products in place of full-fat versions; and for people who eat meat, choosing lean cuts rather than processed forms.
- using liquid plant oils instead of tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel) and animal fats (lard and butter) or partially hydrogenated fats.
- choosing minimally processed over ultra-processed foods.
- minimizing foods and beverages with added sugar.
- choosing foods with little or no added salt.
- limiting alcohol, if you already consume it, and not starting if you don’t.
- adhering to the guidance regardless of where food is prepared or consumed.
Instead of offering calorie counts, the guidance acknowledges that everyone’s needs vary, according to Lichtenstein. During adulthood, for example, energy needs