Consume more whole foods, less salt: American Heart Association releases updated dietary guidelines

Rather than focusing on individual nutrients or foods, the American Heart Association (AHA) has released guidelines for “overall dietary patterns” to improve heart health.

The 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health has been published in the journal Circulation. It is the first time since 2006 that the guidelines have been updated.

Poor diet quality is strongly associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality. This scientific statement emphasises the importance of dietary patterns beyond individual foods or nutrients, underscores the critical role of nutrition early in life, presents elements of heart-healthy dietary patterns, and highlights structural challenges that impede adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns,” noted the scientific statement from AHA.

The guideline comprises these pointers

*Adjust energy intake and expenditure to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
*Eat plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables;
*Choose whole grain foods and products
*Choose healthy sources of protein (mostly plants; regular intake of fish and seafood; low-fat or fat-free dairy products; and if meat or poultry is desired, choose lean cuts and unprocessed forms)
*Use liquid plant oils rather than tropical oils and partially hydrogenated fats;
*Choose minimally processed foods instead of ultra-processed foods;
*Minimise the intake of beverages and foods with added sugars;
*Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt;
*If you do not drink alcohol, do not start; if you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake; and

Why does diet matter?

A changed and hectic lifestyle with easy availability of convenience foods has led to irregular meals and frequent snacking on energy-dense ready-to-use foods rather than traditional home-cooked food, experts mention.

In contemporary times, the intake of processed and ready-to-eat foods and healthy beverages has changed people’s perception of foods as well as their dietary behaviour, Dr Siddhant Bhargava, fitness and nutritional scientist, co-founder- Food Darzee told

“Grounded in science, the updated guidelines give strong emphasis on diet along with physical exercise. They also provide recommendations from birth to older adults in Asian Indians. This includes a reduction in the intake of carbohydrates, preferential intake of complex carbohydrates, higher intake of fibre, slightly higher protein intake, lower intake of salt, restricted intake of sugar, etc. that will help curb the rising cases of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, the metabolic syndrome, to name a few. This nutritional transition has the potential to cause diet-related non-communicable diseases as well as obesity,” he said.

The statement also mentioned how adherence to this guidance is essential “regardless of where food is prepared or consumed”.

“Challenges that impede adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns include targeted marketing of unhealthy foods, neighbourhood segregation, food and nutrition insecurity, and structural racism. Creating an environment that facilitates, rather than impedes, adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns among all individuals is a public health imperative,” the statement read.

genetic makeup, genes, genetics, genes and health, genes and nutrition, nutritional needs, health and wellness, indian express news What’s your diet like? (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

“The need of the hour is to disseminate information on how diet is an important factor in preventing coronary heart disease. And, further, a low-saturated fat, high-fibre, high plant food diet can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease,” said Dr Bhargava.

Whenever food is prepared at home or ordered online, one should check for ingredients that go in making like sodium, added sugars and fats, mentioned Rutu Dhodapkar, Dietitics Department, P D Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Khar.

“While buying food read label carefully for the ingredients and date of manufacturing and expiry. Always buy foods with the latest manufacturing date and consume before expiry. Keep a check on sodium levels mentioned on products. Include low-fat diet packed with antioxidants like berries which has anthocyanins that protects against oxidative stress and inflammation and contribute to tackling heart disease. Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats which helps in reducing cholesterol levels lowering the risk of heart disease. Include Omega 3 Fatty acids like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna. Vegetarian sources are chia seeds, Flaxseeds, walnuts,” said Dhodapkar.

However, despite strong evidence showing the potential health benefits of foods, nutrients, bioactive compounds, and dietary antioxidants may exert on cardiovascular risk factors or directly on its development, Dr Bhargava mentioned how “it is necessary to conduct more interventional studies with a higher number of cases, stringent investigation and longer follow-ups”.

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