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Stay Heart Healthy with New Dietary Guidelines by the AHA

The American Heart Association(AHA) released its new dietary guidelines for the first time in 15 years. The new guidance emphasizes dietary patterns

, rather than being hung up on specific foods—an approach to eating that’s more understanding of the way people actually eat. The updated list recommends healthy proteins, whole grains, and minimally processed foods

The AHA’s Updated Dietary Guidelines

Target Healthy Body Weight

When it comes to heart health, those who are overweight or obese can make a major impact by working toward weight loss with small dietary changes. But it’s important to work with your healthcare provider to determine what healthy body weight is for you individually and not focus on just ‘skinny’.

Eat plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and grains are higher in fiber and plant sterols, which are important for gut health and cholesterol management. All forms of fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, and dried) can be incorporated into heart-healthy dietary patterns. Frozen fruits and vegetables have a longer shelf-life than fresh forms, are ready-to-use, have similar or higher nutrient content, and at times are lower priced. The AHA guidelines mirror those of the Mediterranean diet approach. There is insufficient evidence to support any existing popular or fad diets such as the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting to promote heart health.

Choose whole-grain foods and products.

Choose foods that are as close as possible to the original form for maximum health benefits. Whole grains contain intact starchy endosperm, germ, and bran and are a rich source of fiber. Products made with at least 51% whole grains are typically classified as whole grain. Beneficial effects of whole grains on laxation and gut microbiota have also been reported.

Choose Healthy sources of Protein.

The AHA guidelines suggest using plant protein sources (like beans, nuts, and seeds) over processed meats. The AHA also recommends adding fish and seafood into your diet regularly, with low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean cuts of meat and poultry occasionally. The delivery vehicle of the protein is really what they’re emphasizing here. This is because animal proteins tend to come with saturated fats, which can raise bad cholesterol and promote inflammation.

Use Liquid Plant Oil

The guidelines suggest opting for plant oils, like olive oil, rather than tropical oils (like coconut oil, hydrogenated coconut oil, and palm kernel oil) and partially hydrogenated fats. Though there are some exceptions, plant oil is liquid at room temperature and animal fat is solid at room temperature. Foods that contain tropical oils and hydrogenated oils often come from packaged and processed foods rather than naturally occurring. They’re often listed as trans fats on labels, but up to 0.5 grams can be present in foods without being listed, these should be avoided at all costs.

Choose Minimally Processed Foods

Instead of reaching for ultra-processed foods, the AHA suggests opting for something a bit more fresh. Foods like low-fat cookies and rice cakes are processed carbohydrates, which can increase cholesterol. If we stay away from overly processed foods, we’re really helping ourselves out with healthy biochemistry.

Minimize Beverages and Foods with added sugars

Begin with cutting down on things like soda and cookies that have a lot of added sugars, versus something like fruit juice that has naturally occurring sugars. Start with small changes to cut back on sugar. Changing one can of soda to a bottle of water is a health transformation.

Choose and Prepare Foods with little or no salt

Sodium is a huge problem. It is very difficult to eat foods without a lot of salt added to them unless you cook from scratch. People think it’s the table salt that matters, but it’s the salt in the food already. Try to keep salt intake to under 2,300mg per day or under 1,500mg per day if you have high blood pressure. To do this, focus on foods that are naturally low-sodium or sodium-free, like fruits and vegetables. And before you go out for dinner or grab a higher-sodium meal, snack on fresh fruits or vegetables first.

Limit Your Alcohol Intake

Though doctors have long said moderate drinking can be good for heart health, new research points to alcohol having a negative impact on our cardiovascular health. The new guidelines suggest limiting alcohol intake and recommend not picking it up if you’re someone who already doesn’t drink. Alcohol consumption is an issue. It’s a simple carbohydrate, empty calories, and it’s a stimulant. It can affect weight, insulin, and blood pressure control.

People can, and should, apply the AHA guidelines whether they’re making dinner at home for their family from scratch, or stopping at a fast-food restaurant during their lunch break.

Start where you are, pick one or two things that you find accessible, and just do them.

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