The key to a healthy heart? You need to look at the full picture

Posted: 2 November 2021 | | No comments yet

The key to a healthy heart is a balanced diet, rather than avoiding certain foods, new research from the American Heart Association has recommended today.

heart health

A new statement from the American Heart Association has suggested that it’s the whole picture, rather than individual dietary elements, that make a difference when it comes to good heart health.

The AHA statement stresses the importance of looking at the total dietary pattern rather than “good” or “bad” individual foods or nutrients. A dietary pattern refers to the balance, variety, amounts and combination of foods and beverages regularly eaten. The statement also highlights the critical role of nutrition education, starting healthy eating early in life and maintaining throughout the lifespan, as well as societal and other challenges that may make it harder to adopt or maintain a heart-healthy diet pattern.

“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. It does not need to be complicated, time consuming, expensive or unappealing,” said Chair of the scientific statement writing group Alice H. Lichtenstein, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

Because food is often eaten in places besides the home, the statement emphasises that it is possible to follow a heart-healthy dietary pattern regardless of whether food is prepared at home, ordered in a restaurant or online, or purchased as a prepared meal.

“You can absolutely adapt a heart-healthy diet to different lifestyles, including one that incorporates eating out at restaurants. It might take a little planning, however, after the first few times it can become routine,” added Lichtenstein.

Here’s the 10 features of a healthy heart diet as outlined by the AHA:

  • Balance food and calorie intake with physical activity to maintain a healthy weight
  • Choose a wide variety and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to get a full range of nutrients from food rather than supplements
  • Choose whole grains and other foods made up mostly of whole grains
  • Include healthy sources of lean and/or high-fibre 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
  • Use liquid non-tropical plant oils such as olive or sunflower oils
  • Choose minimally processed foods rather than ultra-processed foods as much as possible
  • Minimize intake of beverages and foods with added sugars
  • Choose or prepare foods with little or no salt
  • Limit alcohol consumption; if you don’t drink, do not start
  • Apply this guidance no matter where food is prepared or consumed