Ten Diet Tips for Heart Health, according to the American Association

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One of the most influential medical associations in the United States, the American Heart Association (AHA), has for the first time in 15 years updated its dietary guide with guidelines for “improving cardiovascular health.”

The proposal is that these healthy habits are incorporated in the long term, unlike the drastic changes in diet guided by fad diets. According to the association, other challenges for healthy eating today are the expansion and variety of quick ways to eat, such as fast food chains, delivery platforms and the sale of ready-to-eat foods — trends “worsened by the pandemic”, from according to the AHA.

The newly updated food guide aims to be functional for everyone, regardless of cultural restrictions or characteristics. Here are ten recommendations from the American Heart Association for keeping your heart healthy.

1. Adjust your intake and energy expenditure for a healthy weight

According to the association, maintaining a healthy weight throughout life is an important factor in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease — especially at a time when food intake and physical inactivity have increased.

Energy requirements vary greatly according to age, daily activities, size, among other characteristics. But in general, in adulthood, energy demand decreases by 70-100 calories every decade of life.

2. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables (with variety)

The AHA report reminds that consumption of most fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduction in mortality.

“Consuming a wide variety of these foods provides the essential nutrients and proper phytochemicals. All forms of fruits and vegetables — fresh, frozen, canned and dried — can be incorporated into a heart-healthy eating pattern,” says the association’s guide.

Although they are desirable in all formats, experts say that the gains in the consumption of fruits and vegetables are greater when we eat these foods whole, instead of juices, for example. It is also recommended to avoid adding salt and sugar to them.

3. Eat whole grains instead of refined ones

The AHA report says that several scientific studies have already shown the benefits of eating whole grains instead of those previously refined.

It is precisely recommended products with at least 51% of whole grains in the composition.

4. Choose healthy sources of protein

According to the AHA, the main sources of protein in the diet should be vegetables, such as pulses and nuts.

Soybeans (including edamame and tofu), beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas are some recommended options.

“It is noteworthy that the replacement of animal foods by whole foods of plant origin has the additional benefit of reducing the carbon footprint of the diet, thus contributing to planetary health”, says the food guide.

The report, however, warns against the consumption of vegetable meats, as they are ultra-processed with the addition of sugars, fats, salt, stabilizers and preservatives: “Currently, there is limited evidence on the short- and long-term effects on health of these vegetable-based meat alternatives.”

It is also recommended the regular consumption of fish and crustaceans and, if you choose red meat or chicken, that they are lean cuts and little processed.

5. Use liquid vegetable oils

In the oil sector, the AHA says that so-called tropical oils (coconut, palm, etc.), animal fats (butter and lard) and partially hydrogenated fats should be avoided.

Soy, canola, corn, safflower and sunflower oils are recommended, as well as olive oil and oils and butters from walnuts and peanuts.

6. Prefer minimally processed foods

The American Heart Association warns that consumption of many ultra-processed foods is of concern because of their association with adverse health effects, including overweight and obesity, cardiometabolic disorders (type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) and increased mortality.

“A general principle is to emphasize the consumption of raw or minimally processed foods”, says the association’s food guide.

7. Reduce sugary intake

Another guideline is to limit the consumption of sugars added to food and drink, whether in the form of glucose, dextrose or sucrose, or even honey and corn syrup.

Low- or no-calorie sweeteners are also not recommended because the AHA does not believe there is sufficient scientific evidence of their benefits.

8. Decrease or eliminate salt intake

Repeating a classic of cardiologists’ recommendations, the AHA advises to reduce salt intake.

This is not just about what we add to food, but also what is in processed foods, those prepared outside the home or canned and packaged.

“A promising alternative is the replacement of common salt with salts enriched with potassium,” suggests the report.

​9. If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start; if you drink, limit your consumption

The AHA itself recognizes that the relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular disease is “complex”, as “the risk seems to vary according to the amount and pattern of alcohol intake, age and sex”.

The guide cites a recommendation from another government report, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, whereby women should not drink more than one glass of alcoholic beverage per day, while men have a recommended limit of two glasses.

10. Follow these tips regardless of where food is prepared or eaten

The American Heart Association advises that all of these recommendations apply to all foods and beverages, regardless of where they are prepared, purchased, and consumed.

“Policies that encourage healthier food choices should be supported, such as making whole grains available instead of refined grains and minimizing the sodium and sugar content in products,” says the guide.

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