The American Heart Association (AHA) is touting “balance” as the new approach to heart-healthy eating. And it’s about time.
Instead of highlighting specific nutrients or foods, the new guidelines encourage people to think more broadly about overall eating habits. This approach adds for personal preference and flexibility while focusing on patterns.
One of the dangers of focusing on specific nutrients or foods can be that it can be very deceiving. Often, people tend to believe that adding more blueberries or vitamin C to an unhealthy diet, for example, can negate negative outcomes.
This is simply not the case.
A heart-healthy diet is about the overall picture and not what you’re necessarily eating at every snack or meal. It takes a more macro approach, requiring a better look at what you’re eating over the week or month.
You can still have a heart-healthy diet and eat a pizza and have a beer on Friday. If you’re limiting alcohol the rest of the week and eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and staying active during the week, you’ve got some leeway.
The new guidelines allow for personal freedom. It puts the power in your hands to select the foods you like – albeit they are not heavily processed and are whole foods for the most part.
A heart-healthy diet pattern under the new guidelines, which were updated for the first time since 2006 and published in Circulation include:
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Choosing whole grains instead of refined grains
- Choosing healthy proteins (fresh meat, poultry, fish, unsweetened dairy, unprocessed plant-based proteins).
- Using liquid plant-based oils like olive oil instead of animal fats (butter, lard) or tropical fats (coconut oil, palm oil).
- Choosing minimally processed foods
- Minimizing intake of added sugars
- Limiting alcohol
Cooking at home is also emphasized,
For many, a heart-healthy diet will be as simple as making a few minor substitutions: cooking oils, unsweetened dairy, unprocessed meat, and moving from refined grains to whole may all help boost heart health.