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AHA Dietary Guidelines

New Dietary Guidelines by American Heart Association

January 17, 2022

By Priya Gandhi, MD

New dietary advice from the American Heart Association (AHA) focuses on “dietary patterns” rather than thinking of foods as good or bad. It’s a refreshing look at America’s eating habits and aims to make it a part of life without negative connotation.

Reality of Heart Disease

For the first time in 15 years, AHA released new guidelines for heart-healthy eating. Experts agree that diet and nutrition have the largest impact on heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Sadly, two-thirds of these deaths worldwide – 6 million people – are linked to food choices, according to a recent study.

New Guidelines

The AHA takes into account the dietary patterns and current lifestyles of people today, since America’s eating habits have changed. The suggestion is to follow these guidelines no matter where the food is prepared or eaten: at home, in a fast food restaurant, or with meal prep kits.

According to the report, a heart-healthy dietary pattern includes the following:

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Choose whole grains rather than refined grain products
  • Choose healthy sources of proteins – mostly from plant sources – and regularly eat seafood and fish, and leaner cuts of meat
  • Use liquid plant oils (olive, corn, canola, safflower) in place of tropical oils and animal fats (butter)
  • Choose minimally processed over ultra-processed foods
  • Choose foods with little or no salt
  • Minimize foods and beverages with added sugar
  • Limit alcohol if you consume it already. Don’t start if you aren’t drinking.

Tips for Creating a Healthy Dietary Pattern

The key to the new guidelines is balance – think of the dietary guidelines in broad eating habits versus narrowly focusing on single foods.

AHA Dietary Guidelines

Look for the healthy option: In its simplest form, choose whole grain when looking at breads and rice. Examine foods you already enjoy and consider a healthier option, if available, such as soups or crackers.

Examine nutritional information on take-out or prepared foods: For some families, take-out or prepared foods are a large part of their diets due to convenience. Look at nutritional information to stay on a healthier path.

Switch up the fat: The recommendations are not promoting a low-fat diet but suggesting people consume most of their fat from plant-based sources or seafood rather than animal-based fats.

Consider the whole package: The heart-healthy diet recommendations are not about adding another vegetable or vitamin. It looks at the whole package and what you eat over a day or a week.

Reach out to your physician if you have questions about the new dietary guidelines from the American Heart Association.

Headshot of Priya Gandhi, internal medicine specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

About the Author

Dr. Gandhi is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. She grew up in the Houston area. Her clinical interests are preventive health, cultural competency, and integrative medicine.

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