The American Heart Association has outlined 10 key features of a heart-healthy eating pattern in a new scientific statement that emphasizes the importance of overall dietary pattern rather than individual foods or nutrients and underscores the critical role of nutrition in all stages of life. These features can be adapted to accommodate individual food likes and dislikes, cultural traditions and whether most meals are consumed at home, or on-the-go, according to the statement: 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health, published in the Association’s flagship journal Circulation.
The new statement reflects the latest scientific evidence on the benefits of heart-healthy eating throughout life and that poor diet quality is strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death. The statement emphasises 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, D.Sc., FAHA, 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 outside the home, the statement also emphasises following a heart-healthy dietary pattern regardless of whether food is prepared: at home, in a restaurant, ordered online, or purchased as a ready-meal.
“You can absolutely adapt a heart-healthy diet to different lifestyles,” said Lichtenstein, who is also the Stanley N. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, “including one that incorporates eating out at restaurants. It might take a little planning, however, after the first few times it can become routine.”
The statement details 10 features of a dietary protein to promote heart health:
A heart-healthy diet can also help the environment
For the first time, the issue of sustainability is included in the Association’s dietary guidance. Commonly consumed animal products, particularly red meat (beef, lamb, pork, veal, venison or goat), have the largest environmental impacts in terms of water and land usage, and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, shifting reliance from meat protein to plant protein can also help to reduce overall environmental impact.
“It is important to recognize that the guidance is consistent not only with heart health but also sustainability – it is a win-win for individuals and our environment,” said Lichtenstein.
And, for the first time, the 2021 dietary guidance discusses several challenges that can make it harder to adopt or maintain a heart-healthy diet. These include:
Public health action and policy changes are required to address these challenges and barriers, according to the statement.
“Creating an environment that promotes and supports adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns among all individuals is a public health imperative,” the statement concludes.