Heart Association’s New Dietary Guidance

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It’s not news that heart disease is one of the top causes of death in this county. But there is news in the area of heart disease prevention. Research in this area is on-going and, due to scientific data, the American Heart Association (AHA) has recently updated their dietary guidance. AHA is a national non-profit organization that funds cardiovascular medical research and educates consumers on healthy living. AHA is dedicated to the reduction of death and disability from cardiovascular diseases including heart disease and stroke.

These are the first changes they have made to their dietary recommendations in fifteen years. The major differences are that these guidelines emphasize heart-healthy patterns instead of individual foods or nutrients. These new guidelines not only encompass prevention of coronary heart disease, but also take into consideration other chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. 

These New Guidelines Have 10 Basic Points

  1. Pair a healthy diet with at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week and achieve a healthy weight.
  2. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  3. Eat more whole grains.
  4. Choose healthy proteins. 
  5. Use liquid plant oils.
  6. Choose minimally processed foods.
  7. Minimize intake of added sugars in foods and beverages.
  8. Limit salt intake.
  9. Limit alcohol intake.
  10. Follow this guidance at home, when eating out, and while shopping.

A Couple Special Notes On These Points

When selecting fruits and vegetables, look for those with lots of color for a variety of nutrients. Fresh whole fruits and vegetables are the best option. But, frozen and canned are OK choices, just avoid those with added sugars and salt. Juices are not a good alternative to whole foods.

The protein recommendation gets a little tricky. One obvious guideline (that hasn’t changed) is to choose lean cuts of meat instead of fatty or processed meat. They also encourage plant proteins such as legumes, nuts, soybeans, lentils, split peas and chickpeas. But they warn that many processed plant proteins available on the market these days have added sugars, fats, salts, and preservatives—so careful label reading is needed.

Seafood and dairy fit into the protein category, too. They suggest two to three servings of fish and seafood each week due to the omega-3 fatty acids provided. When it comes to dairy, they encourage switching from full-fat to low or fat-free products.

In the oil category, their goal is to switch from saturated fats to polyunsaturated fats. Note that coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, butter, lard are all considered saturated fats.

These recommendations from the AHA are very similar to those in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The DGA are released every five years by the United States Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to give evidence-based guidance for Americans on healthy eating.

The AHA’s guidance places more emphasis on the plant-based protein sources than the DGA. The AHA also introduces the need to eat minimally processed foods and reduce the ultra-processed foods consumed. When they talk about ultra-processed food, they not only look at the obvious added salt, fats and sweeteners, but add reducing artificial colors, stabilizers, preservatives and flavors to the list of ingredients to be aware of when shopping and reading labels.

They’ve got this down to these ten basic points. But, we all know that making these changes to our diets are hard to do. And they recognize this. Their news release regarding this new guidance stressed the need for societal changes including increased nutrition education for youth and access to healthier foods for all. They also recognize that targeted marketing of unhealthy foods as well as nutrition and food insecurity make it difficult for people to follow a heart-healthy eating pattern. 

I’ve really simplified these new guidelines. For more details and specifics go to the American Heart Association’s website and look for the 2021 Dietary Guidance.


The American Heart Association

Food Politics by Marion Nestle

Casey Bishop, Ohio State University Extension

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Cheryle Syracuse wrote this article and more similar ones for the Family and Consumer Sciences Column in the Brunswick Beacon. Syracuse is an FCS team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, 910-253-2610 or by email at cheryle_syracuse@ncsu.edu.